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HARVARD 
COLLEGE 
LIBRARY 



OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 



UR AMERICAN 
HUMORISTS 



THOMAS L. MASSON 

< or "humorous HAsreRPiEces:* "sm nouEs in tbb 
wouA," "dogs fkiu ufi," rrc 




NEW YORK 
MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY 

192Z 



A 



J 



/ . •- 



^ 



Z.i u 



J 



/ • 




COPTUGHT, 1922, BT 

MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY 



J. J. Little & Itcs Compaaj 
New York, U. S. A. 



FOREWORD 

This book is intensely personal. 

I have known and suffered with most of the men 
who are unfolded in these pages. I say that I have 
known them, because, after this book is issued, I may 
not know them again. They may not want me to. 

I have suffered with them when we were discussing 
the humor of those who were not present at the time. 
Occasionally I have laughed at them, and with them. 

For twenty-eight years I was the literary and man- 
aging editor of Life. During this short and eventful 
and melancholy period of American history, all of the 
humorists of the day, incipient or otherwise, passed 
before me in review. 

During the first five years I read so many jokes 
that I rapidly fell into a hopeless decline ; I was given 
up by seven 'doctors, the majority of whom have since 
passed away — ^and they sent me off to a sanitarium. By 
careful nursing for a year, however, I came back. 
After having lived in an American sanitarium, even for 
a few months, you become so hardened to all other 
forms of suffering, that nothing else matters. From 
then on, until the past few months, I have read jokes 
unceasingly, and risen above them so far that I can 
still smile. This shows what heights of endurance a 
himian being can attain, when he abandons his con- 
science and his moral courage. 



t/ 



FOREWORD 

The humorists I have met and still know, in spite 
of what the future holds forth, are many and ntmierous. 
Some of them are still very young, emergfing, so to 
speak, from the parent egg only within the past year. 
Others are old and hardened — ^like myself. Some 
of them, in spite of their occupation, manage to be 
occasionally cheerful; others, with naturally cheerful 
dispositions, are afraid to show them for fear that ; 
they will lose their gfift of humor. Still others have 
become successful pla3rwrights, and from their lofty 
financial heights can afford to look down with pity and e 
sympathy upon the poor devils who still struggle to i 
give others a little laughter. t 

Now you, gentle — ^and like myself, frequently mis- : 
guided — ^reader, may think that you have a sense of t 
humor. Maybe you have. You couldn't make me « 
laugh anyway, but that would not be a fair test. One : 
thing is quite certain : if you have not a sense of humor, 
nobody will ever be able to convince you that you 
haven't. You will never know. You will always think 
you have, and perhaps that is the one thing necessary. 

But here is a fair test — ^which you probably will not 
agree to. (In these days, never agree to any test: it's 
the only safe way ; otherwise they will have you locked 
up in a nut-factory inside of twenty-four hours — ^you 
will be convicted of being so hopelessly unintelligent 
that even people from whom you have borrowed money 
will cross over when they see you coming.) And this 
is it: If you are now beginning to wonder what this 
is all about, if you are beginning to ask yourself the 
question, "What is this fellow driving at an3rway?" 
then you must have a sense of htmior, because a sense 



":1.x 



FOREWORD 

came the sympathy and sense of contrast that enabled ir 
him to call up from his own vivid experience all those Jr 
incidents that illuminate his thought in such a mar- 
velous way. Mark Twain, in perhaps different 
manner, is another example. These men were intense 
individualists; the genuine humorist always is. He 
feels himself.. With the sense of a great finality, he 
recognizes the utter hopelessness of circumventing Fate. 
This being ^o, he takes the only course possible for 
anyone who has any sort of backbone — ^he resolves to 
laugh it off. It is the very depth of melancholy in the 
genuine humorist that compels him to take this course 
— otherwise he would go mad. Thus he becomes the 
passionate advocate of brevity; an)rthing long or dull 
infuriates him; and it is through this gift that he 
renders his greatest service to humanity. Think of 
what would happen to us here in America if there 
were no humorists — ^life would be one long Congres- 
sional Record, a ^ ^^ 

#■■■ 

I want to press on this point a little harder because 
it is desirable for you to see that this book is unique. 
Defective as it may be — and I offer no hopes that it 
is near perfect — at least it is the first attempt here on 
this continent to set right the race of humorists, to 
show definitely what they are here for, to make it 
plain that they are here for a great purpose, and that, 
without them, we should already have been wrecked. 
There is no hope for this present world of ours with- 
out humor. In the long process of time it may indeed 
vanish; we may ultimately reach a stage where we 
shall all be utterly passive and humorless in our 
serenity. But finally, to reach this Nirvana, we must 



* FOREWORD 

be steered right by humorP Humor is a constant cor- 
rective ; it is a kind of ballast. You would be surprised 
if you knew how it is forever reaching up -into high 
places and setting men right ; setting them right silently, 
making them pause. For nothing is more effective 
than ridicule. An epigram may make an exile of a 
man. We have only to think of some of the instances 
of the past. Think of James G. Blaine as The Tat- 
tooed Man ! Do you remember Mark Hanna's dollar- 
mark suit? Are you aware that one of the causes 
that influenced his managers not to run Mr. McAdoo 
for president was because they feared the rush of 
ridicule about his name? Once fasten upon any man 
a thing ever so slight that makes him an object of 
laughter and his cause is lost. That is one of the 
reasons, of course, why all popular leaders have to be 
so careful not to convey the impression that they are 
Immorists ; that is one of the reasons why Lincoln was 
so great — ^he is almost the only man in history who was 
able to rise above this. 

And, owing to numerous conditions that lie deep 
m our Colonial history — one of them being the sense 
of intimacy that we were able to generate out of our 
adventure on this Continent — ^we Americans have 
raised up this set of humorists, who are in a class by 
themselves. Or, perhaps I should say, who are in a 
group by themselves — ^this group being divided into 
sections or classes, but all having the same general 
purpose, which is to make proper fun of everything 
in sight. The object of this book is to make you see 
Aem all in this light — is to make you understand them, 
and to realize their great service. It is more than this : 



^f 



FOREWORD 



it is to make them see themselves. Most of them 
haven't realized what they are here for, and perhaps, 
at the time, this was a blessing, because a humorist 
who has an avowed mission in life may, after all, 
become only a nuisance. It is his very innocence that 
makes him effective. When he gets to be self-conscious 
he is lost. They tell us that was what was the 
matter with Mark Twain. He was quite all right until 
he came to wear white flannel suits.^And I must in- 
. terrupt the proceedings to tell a story about hinL I 
hope it is true. You know that, at one of the most 
distressing periods of his life — ^when he had financially 
failed — ^his friend Rogers came to his rescue, straight- 
ened out his accounts and put him on his feet generally. 
Both Mr. and Mrs. Rogers naturally came to be very 
fond of Mark. He visited them in their Adirondack 
Camp. On one occasion he dolled himself up in a 
white flannel suit. Mrs. Rogers, seeing him thus ac- 
coutered for the first time, complimented him on his 
appearance. Mark was very vain. 

"You like me in it?" he asked. 

"You never looked better." 

"Then I shall always wear it." And so his whjjtc 
flannels became historic. 

Another : At a Turkish bath place in New York to 
which I once became addicted, one of the rubbers told 
me that, some years before, Mark Twain came down 
from Hartford one day and, upon the recommendation 
of a friend, went there to take a Turkish bath. And 
he was so overjoyed by the experience that he did not{ 
come out of it for a week ! 
O Let me now indicate briefly some of the classes into] 



FOREWORD 

which our American humorists fall. First there arc 
the columnists, with whom all American newspaper 
readers are so familiar, and who form such an impor- 
tant part of our daily newspaper pabulum. Where 
did they originally come from? Personally, I think 
that Ben Franklin is responsible for them. This great 
man started more things on this continent than anyone 
else that has ever lived here. And among other things, 
his Poor Richard's Almanac is the North American 
progenitor of the column. The wonder of it is that 
nobody has yet been able to exceed him in wit and 
fertility of resource. Go back to his time, study his 
period, and then read what he has written, and you 
will be astonished at his genius. His enormous in- 
fluence over his period, indeed, his enormous influence 
over the men that made the Constitution, can scarcely 
be measured. What was it that impelled him, then 
an aged man, to write his great letter of compromise 
about the Constitution at the most critical moment of 
our history? A divine sense of humor, which is 
always founded on a sense of justice. He said there 
were things in the Constitution of which he did not 
approve, but, after all, it was the spirit of concession 
that must be exercised. When we look back upon this 
creating of an immortal document that has carried us 
along such a distance in good faith and prosperity, we 
must pause and give a large part of the credit to Ben 
Franklin, our first great humorist, who also, with Lin- 
coln, was great enough to rise above his reputation for 
being only a maker of fun. 

From Ben Franklin's time, the columnist has always 
flourished in American newspapers. Artemus Ward 



nil 



FOREWORD 

might be called a sort of traveling columnist. He ex- 
hibited on his own account. His column was a sepa- 
rate affair, conducted by himself independently. Bill 
Nye started on a paper called the Laramie Boomerang 
— ^and a remarkable personage he was. He was quite 
^'unrefined/' but that is of small consequence, because 
it was a part of the picture. He had small education 
from the academic standpoint, none of that literary 
sense which we have come to term precious, and of 
which Henry James stands as the chief representative. 
But he was very funny, and in a large sense he was 
intensely wholesome. Latterly, he traveled about the 
country, writing his weekly letters for The New York 
World, and other papers. An artist friend drew 
weekly caricatures of him that appeared with his 
contributions. He received two hundred dollars a 
week for these letters. I happen to know this, for, at 
that time, I was a young cub editor, and his beautifully 
written copy passed through my hands and thence on 
to the syndicate of papers. And I cannot help but 
contrast this with the lordly sums later received by 
Mr. Finley Peter Dunne for his Dooley letters which, I 
believe, at their height, brought Dunne well over a 
thousand dollars a week. 

Somewhat later came the delightful and poetic Eu- 
gene Field, whose column on The Chicago News was 
so remarkable for its high literary standard. Gene 
Field had all the qualities of a columnist, and more. 
He had genuine pathos and genuine humor. And, in 
addition, he had a touch of genuine comedy, which is, 
I think, the rarest trait in the world. At least, we are 
entitled to think so when we consider how few, in all 



I 



j FOREWORD 

; the history of the world, have possessed it. You ask 
I we what comedy is, in contrast to humor, and my 
reply is that it would take too long to explain, and, 
even then, my explanation would be mysterious and 
I probably inadequate. I can only refer you to George 
f Meredith's essay on the subject. Comedy, to my mind, 
I is essentially Greek in its origin: it is paganism with 
I an aura. Whatever it is. Gene Field undoubtedly had 
' it. His verses — ^many of them exquisite in their ad- 
mirable fooling — still linger with us. And it is only 
recently that Bert Leston Taylor, perhaps his ablest 
successor in Chicago — who was the columnist for 
The Chicago Tribune — ^passed away, lamented by a 
great public and mourned by his loyal circle of friends. 
I knew Mr. Taylor when he began so many years ago, 
on Puck, and followed him through his career with 
constant admiration. Just before he died, when I was 
engaged in compiling this book, he took the trouble to 
write out for me a short biography of himself — ^with 
the brevity of a modest reluctance — ^and it was only 
a few days after receiving it that I was shocked to 
hear the news of his death. The great pity of a life 
like his is that, because of the fugitive quality of his 
work, so much of it disappdai^s.. Since his death in 
192 1 two posthumous books of his, "The Penny Whis- 
tle" (with a foreword by Franklin P. Adams), "Cliff 
Dwellers" (in memory of B. L. T.) and the "So-Called 
Human Race" have been published. As for all our 
living columnists of to-day, they abound and seem 
to be a growing and prosperous race. And, in this 
book, they are to receive fair and, I hope, decent treat- 
ment. I merely wish now to emphasize the fact that 



FOREWORD 

they are a family by themselves. One of the marks of 
success in any local American paper is to be able to 
maintain its own columnist. 

The other species of himiorists peculiar to this 
country comprises the joke-writers, who do so many 
of the dialogues appearing tmder drawings in the 
comic papers; the writers of humorous short stories, 
whose number is constantly, although slowly, in- 
creasing; the satirists, a small and rather exclusive 
body; the humorous essayists, also quite small and 
select; the big bow-wow humorists, such as George 
Ade, Ring Lardner and Irvin Cobb; the after-dinner 
speakers, whose work is not generally original; the 
special newspaper reporters, called at one time "Bright 
yoimg men" (a term originating in the old New York 
Sun under Mr. Dana), the humorous verse writers, 
and those geniuses who, day after day, in pictures, de- 
light thousands by their comic strips, and the bur- 
lesquers. 

All of these different species are working very hard 
— for what purpose? To maintain themselves? Cer- 
tainly, but in reality for something much more im- 
portant. In reality, they are stemming the tide of 
dullness, of utter stupidity, of horrible uniformity that 
would otherwise engulf us. We have only to think of 
the fate awaiting us, if we were enslaved wholly by 
the theologians, the philosophers, the solemn historians, 
the reformers, all the alleged deep thinkers, to render 
up thanks daily and hourly for the noble band of 
humorous martyrs who stand between us and unutter- 
able boredom. 

Looking back over the history of this country from 



FOREWORD 

the time the Puritans landed, it is almost impossible to 
overestimate the service rendered to us, and to human- 
ity generally, by our humorists. It may be said that 
they have been unfair — that they have made a laugh- 
ing-stock out of many estimable people. That is pure 
nonsense. And even if they have, what of it? Any^ 
thing is better than not to have them around. Besides, 
it is fact that when any one of them gets a wrong 
slant, he is immediately set upon by all of the others. 
And it is astonishing how conscientious they are, how 
hard they work to get at the truth. But more aston- 
ishing still is the way they work to help one another. 
While the competition among them is fierce, I know of 
no body of men working at one trade that will do 
more for one another than these same humorists. It 
is a singular fact that, among themselves, they are 
always looking for new talent. When some kid comes 
along who shows any talent, the rest of the gang, in- 
stead of pouncing upon him and throttling him, as 
would be (alas!) quite human, make all kinds of sac- 
rifices to give him a start. And so far as I can re- 
member, I have never seen the slightest envy expressed 
over some youngster who has shown talent enough to 
forge himself ahead. But God help him if he does 
not make good ! 

I must admit that this spirit has, and does lead to 
some logrolling. That, however, is due to other causes 
than mere commercialism. It is due, in some cases, to 
bad manners. In others, it is due to plain ignorance. 
It is not always easy for a writer whose work is read 
daily by hundreds of thousands of people to keep his 
perspective. It is quite natural for him, when he be- 



FOREWORD 

gins to write of himself, and finds that nothing hap- 
pens, to come to depend upon that sort of thing top 
much. I am doing it now, in the sense that I am play- 
ing up my own relationship to many of these friends 
because I sincerely desire to sell this book. But I do 
not altogether desire to sell this book for mercenary 
reasons. On the contrary, I think I have an idea that 
has never been put forward before, so far as I know, 
in just this way. It is a perfectly homely idea. What 
I desire to show is that there is no other class of 
writers in America that is actually doing more for the 
country than the humorists. I defy anybody to prove 
that this is otherwise. I put this on a broad plane. I 
am not discussing literature, but life. The moment that 
one gets into any discussion about art or beauty he is 
— ^as Thomas Huxley once put it — up against the ulti- 
mate problems of existence. What so many specialists, 
either in painting pr music or literature, do not under- 
stand is, that the art of living is the supreme art of all. 
God knows that we' have room for improvement in the 
art of living. God knows that, when we consider the 
hopeless welter of slums and bad finance, and utterly 
banal patter wasted upon our. outstanding problems, 
such as education, one could cry aloud for some new 
satirist to arise who, with a truly illtuninated pen, 
would show us the utter folly of so much that we ac- 
cede to — for example, the frightful stupidities of pro- 
hibition, the deliberate atrocities forced upon us by so 
many anti-Christs of all the arts. But, certainly^ the 
salvation of the world cannot be worked out in a day. 
And the real point is that we are beginning to get 
glinunerings of some kind of a national spirit And 



FOREWORD 

the humorists are working like nailors, constantly try- 
ing to correct the things that they see are wrong — 
oftentimes weakly, oftentimes in error, sometimes 
foolishly, frequently vulgar, but practically always sin- 
cere. 

What interests me more personally than anything 
else is the humor of crowds, when crowds get together 
continually in a common spectacle, as for instance, base- 
ball crowds. The astonishing variety of the vocabu- 
lary of Americans under these conditions is a constant 
object of admiration. It is exceeded by no other race 
on earth. It is a combination of good nature and satire 
perfectly inimitable. Precious people no doubt shudder 
at it, but real people understand it. The most intelli- 
gent Englishmen almost always refer to it with great 
respect. 

This book is by no means complete. There is no 
order, no system about it. It is largely a labor of love. 
Begim first as a kind of perfunctory attempt to group 
some of our most prominent humorists, the effort at 
formal biography so saddened and disheartened me 
that I threw aside the whole work, and made up my 
mind that, never again, would I attempt to write of 
human beings as if they were so many harvesting 
machines. Then, my own utter inadequacy to show 
them as they are throttled still another attempt. Then, 
their own messages began flowing in upon me; it was 
as if they themselves had all come to my rescue. I 
made up my mind that we would all help together. I 
began to see that, each in his own star, we were actually 
working together. I recalled the keen joy I had felt so 
many times in the past when some new youngster came 



FOREWORD 

to the front and took his place in the ranks, and then I 
tried to visualize the great mass x>f Americans stretch- 
ing over this yast country, most of them smiling once a 
day at some clever bit of satire, some philosophical 
comment on our national life that exposed in a sen- 
tence the whole frailty, or some joyous yawp that 
just made one feel good without loiowing why; and 
of all these same Americans who didn't know what 
humor is (which I don't myself), and didn't realize 
what it meant, and was meaning daily to them. And 
so it seemed to me that, after all, even the lamest kind 
of an attempt to put our htmiorists on, at least, a basis 
of common understanding with the whole country 
ought to be made. That is why I have done this 
book, and if anyone has inadvertently been omitted, or 
aught set down in malice, I ask to be forgiven. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER I riGs 

George Ade y/. i 

CHAPTER II 

Franklin P. Adams 21 

CHAPTER III 

John Kendrick Bangs . 26 

CHAPTER IV 

Robert C. Benchley y/ • • 47 

CHAPTER V 

Gelett Burgess •: • • 53 

^CHAPTER VI 

Ellis Parker Butler / •. • • 73 

CHAPTER VII 

Irvin Cobb * . /, 91 

CHAPTER VIII 

Homer Croy 104 

CHAPTER IX 

Finley Peter Dunne Iio 

CHAPTER X 

Arthur Folwell 120 

CHAPTER XI 

Simeon Ford 124 

CHAPTER XII 

S, B. Gillilan 127 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER XIII ^j^ 

Montague Glass 133 

CHAPTER XIV 

Beatrice Herford 145 

CHAPTER XV 

Oliver Herford 154 

CHAPTER XVI 

Kin Hubbard 162 

CHAPTER XVII 

Wallace Irwin 164 

CHAPTER XVIII 

Surges Johnson 182 

CHAPTER XIX 

Philander C. Johnson 184 

CHAPTER XX 

Ring Lardner "^ . . . 186 

CHAPTER XXI 

Stephen Leacock ^. . . . 209 

CHAPTER XXII 

C. B. Lewis 230 

CHAPTER XXin 

Roy L. McCardell 238 

CHAPTER XXIV 

Don Marquis 247 

CHAPTER XXV 

Christopher Morley 261 

CHAPTER XXVI 

Dorothy Parker • . . 276 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER XXVn Pagi 

Henry A. Shute •, • . 285 

CHAPTER XXVIII 

Ed. Streeter • . 290 

CHAPTER XXIX 

E. IV. Tozvnsend 295 

CHAPTER XXX 

/. A. Waldron 299 

CHAPTER XXXI 

Harry Leon Wilson 303 

CHAPTER XXXII 

Carolyn Wells 305 

CHAPTER XXXin 

17. 5*. Anonymous 324 

CHAPTER XXXIV 

Writers of Humorous Stories 329 

CHAPTER XXXV 

The Columnists 359 

CHAPTER XXXVI 

The Younger Set 374 

CHAPTER XXXVII 

Thje Comic Poets • . 395 

CHAPTER XXXVin 

Our Comic Artists •: • . 418 

CHAPTER XXXIX 

How I Wrote Fifty Thailand Jokes . . . ... . 432 



OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 



CHAPTER I 



GEORGE ADE 



IN the introduction to Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, 
with the genial candor that was one of his most 
charming traits, laments that hitherto he has been 
unable to break away from the uninterrupted course 
of the Waverley novels. "It was plain, however/' 
says Sir Walter, "that the frequent publication must 
finally wear out the public favor, unless some mode 
could be devised to give an appearance of novelty to 
subsequent productions. Scottish manners, Scottish 
dialect, and Scottish characters of note, being those 
with which the author was most intimately and 
familiarly acquainted, were the groundwork upon 
which he had hitherto relied for giving effect to his 
narrative." He then adds: "Nothing can be more 
dangerous for the fame of a professor of the fine arts 
than to permit (if he can possibly prevent it) the 
character of a mannerist to be attached to him, or that 
he should be supposed capable of success only in a 
particular and limited style." 

Indeed, Sir Walter was so much impressed by the 
truth of his observation, that he insisted upon publish- 



2 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ing "Ivanhoe" anonymously, and it was only upon the 
assurance of its success from his publishers that he 
consented to the use of his name. 

This danger has long been recognized by authors, 
and during the last half century — inspired quite possi- 
bly by the example of Sir Walter, — British writers have 
quite largely succeeded in overcoming the handicap. 
We have Mr. Kipling starting out as a writer of 
short sketches from India, creating a new vein of 
Anglo-Indian literature, but shortly breaking away 
from his environment and becoming a short-story 
writer of universal appeal, then a first rank novelist, 
and the only poet of his generation who has voiced 
in rugged song the heart and soul of Imperial England. 
We have Jerome K. Jerome, whose "Three Men in a 
Boat" and whose housemaid's knee fastened upon him 
the reputation of a professional humorist, suddenly 
becoming a dramatist of high order. There was 
Thackeray of Punch, likewise a professional himiorist 
and satirist, breaking botmds and becoming the author 
of "Vanity Fair": and, after him, Du Maurier, who 
used to write his own jokes to his own drawings and, 
leaving the conference table (they say in a fit of pique) 
built forthwith his "Trilby" — surely a work of literary 
art of the first magnitude. Still more^recently we have 
Mr. A. A. Milne, who, from being in the beginning 
a chance contributor to Punch, is rapidly achieving a 
reputation not only as a humorist and dramatist of 
the first rank, but as a writer whose breadth of vision 
is constantly increasing. There are numerous other 
examples in Great Britain of authors that have risen 
above their first reputations : Mr. Wells is a notable 



GEORGE ADE 3 

instance, for it would be difficult to say whether he is 
more preeminent as a novelist, a historian, or a 
sociological psychologist : and whether Thomas Hardy 
is greater as a poet or a novelist is a question upon 
which his staunchest adherents are divided. 

The literature of this country is, quite inevitably, > 
built upon smaller lines than that of Great Britain, 
but the same struggle of our authors to rise above 
their first limitation has been going on here, as there, 
though with less success. Mark Twain tried to rise 
above it in "Joan of Arc," which he published 
anonymously because he feared that his reputation 
as a htunorist would detract from the dignity of his 
effort. The problem appears to be more difficult in 
America than elsewhere. 

All things considered, by right of achievement and| 
what one may term "intrinsic merit," our two leading 
humorists are George Ade and Finley Peter Dunne: 
yet neither of them has fully succeeded in breaking 
away from his single reputation. Mr. Dunne became 
widely known as the author of the inimitable Mr. 
Dooley: and henceforth nothing else but the observa- 
tions of Mr. Dooley would satisfy an eager public, 
Mr. Ade became known as the author of "Fables in 
Slang": and Mr. Ade is still known as the author of 
"Fables in Slang," although it must be said that as 
the creator of the comic opera "The Sultan of Sulu," 
the comedy, "The College Widow" and others 
meritorious, his fame as a dramatist is closely allied 
to his fame as a fablist. Yet here the observation may 
be made, let me hope without offense, that if ^Esop had 
not written his fables, it is probable that George Ade's 



■i^ 



4 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

reputation as an American htimorist would have been 
none the less, but his reputation as a dramatist might 
easily have been less if Gilbert and Sullivan's operas 
had not been written. Of this, Mr. Ade says himself: 
"I wanted to do something on the order of The 
Mikado' or Tatience/ but all the plans and specifica- 
tions handed to me called for *Chimme Fadden* minus 
the dialect." Nevertheless, and in spite of his modesty, 
Mr. Ade did succeed. He produced rollicking operas 
with true American tang, influenced largely in his form 
by Gilbert. And so his fables aref American fables; 
and the form in this instance does not particularly 
matter: the form, granted, is very old — ^like hexam- 
eter verse, or the ballade, or the sonnet. The point 
is that Ade is an American, which — in an American 
— gives one a great advantage. Ade was bom in the 
middle of America: not exactly in the middle, but 
enough to insure his being an American. He wasn*t 
born near enough to the Atlantic coast to become an 
Anglomaniac, or to take on too much Eastern educa- 
tion to obscure his racial traits. It is probable that 
the mud of Indiana stuck to him long enough to charm 
him against foreign influences. Along somewhere in 
the middle of his life, after he had achieved fame, he 
traveled abroad: he went to Egypt. But it was then 
too late to spoil his jokes: their racial quality had 
become fixed. 

George Ade, bom in Kentland, Indiana, February 
9, 1866, was educated at Purdue University. It proba- 
bly did him less harm than might have been done to 
him anywhere else he might have gone. He succeeded 
in preserving his Americanism: he stuck to Indiana 



GEORGE ADE 5 

more or less, and learned to write at first in a very 
practical school — 2l Lafayette, Indiana, newspaper 
ofike. Then, still an American, he flew to Chicago, 
and consorted with high and low spirits; plied his 
trade as a reporter and writer, and served his ap- 
prenticeship. This leads me to observe that there would4p^ 
be nothing the matter with American literature if it ^ 
were only permitted to grow up. If a man has native 
talent — ^a gift — he needs to have it protected from 
foreign influences long enough for it to stand upon its 
own legs! Otherwise it is crowded out and becomes 
merely aii echo. That is so often the trouble with our 
most energetic writers. 

George Ade practiced on his slang for a long time. 
It was something that came out of the American 
Middle West soil, and to which he gave his genius, 
molding it to his purpose and producing things that, 
■ as finished products, could scarcely have been produced 
; anywhere else. That is what constitutes his merit, his 
f claim to be an American humorist of the first rank. 
1 Of course, no writer can produce things like that 
• without having qualities. Mr. Theodore Dreiser, for 
\ example, is, in my opinion, a great novelist — another 
•• American — but when Mr. Dreiser writes essays attack- 
ing his own country — its vulgarity, its crudeness, its 
banality, etc., he charms me not nearly — ^no, not frac-A 
tionally as much as Mr. Ade, who arrives at the same 
result (and so much more effectively) in his Fables. 
Mr. Sinclair Lewis in "Main Street'' has written a 
long novel to prove that the people who live on Main 
Street are drab and uninteresting — at least so I am 
told by those that have read it. Personally, I do not 



6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

care for Mr. Lewis's opinion of the people that live 
on Main Street, because I sense his book as an echo: 
and besides, George Ade supplies me with what I 
>yant to know about these folks in Main Street: he 
has them all down: he hits them off — ^and he doesn't 
waste a lot of time over them either. 

At this point it is perhaps as well to make a perti- 
nent observation about humor. It is probable that this 
book, if it is not classed as a regular text book, will 
be read quite largely by University students. There- 
. fore, you may put it down here, as a mental note, that 
f/- the right kind of humor is always in sympathy with 
the people it "takes off." George Ade does not hate 
the people he writes his fables about. He doesn't stand 
off and fire poisoned arrows into them, and snarl at 
them, and hold them up to ridicule by showing you how 
much he resents them. He doesn't resent them. He 
doesn't even go so far as to tolerate them. lie likes 
them. He is one of them himself. They are his 
crowd. George Ade, bom in Indiana, went to Chicago 
and learned the mechanics of his art. He went to 
Egypt, and looked it over, and left it where it was 
and came back to Indiana, bought a farm there, and 
he lives there. In other words, George Ade is a plain 
American, a man of genius, living among his own 
people, putting on no frills, and if you want informa- 
tion about what has really been going on in America 
since, say 1900, get his Fables and read them, and 
ll you will come nearer to the truth than you will find 
' in all the books on sociology and history that have 
been written during this period. 

I have stated that he began his trade in Chicago. 



GEORGE ADE 7 

Let him here tell the story for himself, in his own 
inimitable manner, from a personal narrative he wrote 
for the American Magazine, "They Simply Wouldn't 
Let Me Be a Highbrow" he declares in his title, thus 
revealing the limitations the American public fastens 
upon its geniuses. 

Away back in the year when the Infanta Eulalia 
came to Qiicago, and Lake Shore Drive put on its 
evening clothes in the afternoon, I began to write a 
daily coltunn for a Chicago newspaper. John 
McCutcheon drew the pictures interrupting my text, 
and only a thin vertical line divided us from Eugene 
Field and his delightful, whimsical, inimitable "Sharps 
and Flats." 

Now this column-conducting, back there in the 
nineties, was not all lavender. 

We had not discovered the latter-day secret, so 
nobly promoted by B. L. T. and F. P. A., of permit- 
ting the contributors to shoulder the bulk of the toil. 

And this column, undertaken by McCutcheon and 
the author of this article was not a column, when you 
come right down to it. It was two columns. 

And the daily grind, allowing for the breaks on ac- 
count of cuts, had to be anywhere from fifteen hun- 
dred to eighteen .himdred words in order that the stuff 
would get well below the fold on the second column. 

He goes on to explain his difficulties with the night 
editor and his feverish associates to whom the news 
that "a guy over on the West Side beat his wife's 
head all to a pulp" was more important than anything 
else: 



8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

You can imagine what happened to my placid little 
yarns about shopgirls and stray dogs and cable<ar 

conductors. 

• • • . 

Fortunately, there was a friend at court. The high 
chief of the paper could not stay up every night in 
order to protect my fragile output, so he gave me a 
"department,*' and surrounded it with "Hands offT 
signs, and told me to go ahead and revel in the incon« 
sequential. 

So I started on a seven-year Marathon. 

In a little while we discovered that readers became 
more interested in our "Stories of the Streets and of 
the Town" if they could find familiar characters re- 
curring in the yarns. The first to bob up about once 
a week was a brash young office employee named 
"Artie" Blanchard, a very usual specimen of the 
period. Then "Pink" Marsh, a city negro of the 
sophisticated kind, became a regular visitor. He was 
followed by "Doc" Home, an amiable old falsifier, not 
unlike "Lightnin'," so delightfully played by Bacon. 

In 1898 these very bourgeois "types" had found 
their way into books. I had clipped out the reviews, 
which proved that I was almost an author. Henry B. 
Fuller and Hamlin Garland had spoken words of en- 
couragement, and there was a letter from William 
Dean Howells which gold could not have purchased. 

The publishers kept dinging at me to stop trifling 
with the fragmentary sketches, and to write a regular 
full-book story, a novel — possibly the great American 
novel. Why not? Everybody else was getting ready 
to do it. 

But there was no time to write his novel. He 
couldn't do it with a department going. And so : 



GEORGE ADE 9 

One morning I sat at the desk and gazed at the 
empty soft paper, and realized the necessity of con- 
cocting something different. The changes had been 
rung through weary months and years on blank verse, 
catechism, rhyme, broken prose, the drama form of 
dialogue, and staccato paragraphs. 

Why not a fable for a change? And instead of 
slavishly copying iEsop and La Fontaine, why not 
retain the archaic form and the stilted manner of com- 
position and, for purposes of novelty, permit the lan- 
guage to be "fly," modern, undignified, quite up-to- 
the-moment ? 

Also, in order to take the curse off the performance 
and so that no one might accept the article under a 
misapprehension, and, further, lest the critical-minded 
might suspect that the colloquialisms were used 
through a vulgar ignorance of proper speech and not 
in a mere cut-up spirit, it seemed advisable that the 
thing should be called a "Fable in Slang." 

Now, up to this time I had gone fairly straight. My 
ambition was to be known as a realist with a compact 
style and a clean Anglo-Saxon vocabulary and the 
courage to observe human virtues and frailties as they 
showed on the lens. I had written slang, but always 
in the third person. People in my stories had talked 
slang, but only when they had to do so in order to 
be plausible and probable. If I used a word or a 
phrase which was reasonably under suspicion, I would 
hang up the quotation marks so that the reader might 
know that I was not approving the language, but 
merely utilizing it for picturesque effect. 

Of course, I had been tempted a million times to 
use the new idioms and the current catch phrases, be- 
cause they were the salt needed for the proper savoring. 
But I didn't want to fly-speck my compositions with 



lo OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

quotation marks, and I had a real fear of the law 
against dealing in contraband. 

But after affixing the "Poison" label I could put in 
anything. 

And it was a real lark to write in slang — ^just like 
gorging on forbidden fruit. The bridle was off and 
all rules had been abolished. 

Still, there are niceties of distinction even when 
out on a slang debauch. 

I never referred to a policeman as a "bull," because 
that word belongs in the criminal vocabulary, and 
Mother and the girls are not supposed to be familiar 
with the cr3rptic terms of yeggmen. 

I never referred to a young girl as a "chicken." 
The word originated in the deepest pits of white 
slavery, and it always gave me the creeps. A young 
girl may be a flapper, a bud, a peach, a pippin, a lolly- 
paloozer, a nectarine, a cutie, a queen, the one best 
bet, a daisy, or even a baby doll, without being in- 
sulted; but never a "chicken," unless one is writing a 
treatise on social problems. 

There are words of popular circulation which don't 
sound well in the mouth or look pretty in type. "Slob" 
has always been in the Index Expurgatorius. Our fel- 
low citizen may be a dub or even a lobster, and possibly 
a mutt, but let us draw the line on "slob." 

Besides, this so-called "slang" that romps so gayly 
into the homes and offices of the socially important is 
not slang at all. It is not the argot of a criminal 
element, and more of it is hatched on the uni- 
versity campus than in the red parlors of the under- 
world. It is highly figurative speech, tinctured with 
the American spirit of playfulness, bantering, uncon- 
ventional. 

Take the first fable I ever wrote — the one that started 



GEORGE ADE ii 

jme upward on my dissolute career until I landed in the 
gutter of notoriety. 

It was about Sister Mae, who did as well as could 
he expected. Mae was a sister of Luella, whose Fea- 
tures did not seem to know the value of Team Work. 
Her clothes were an intermittent Fit. She was a lumpy 
Dresser. 
Luella worked in a Factory, and every Saturday the 
[ Boss crowded Three Dollars on her. 

Sister Mae was short on Intellect but long on Shape. 
She became Cashier in a Ltmch Room and was a Strong 
Card. 
j • She married a Bucket-Shop Man who was not Hand- 
f some, but was awful Generous. 
[ They went to live in a Flat with a quarter-sawed 
: Oak Chiffonier and Pink Rugs. 

Mae bought a Thiunb Ring, and the Smell of Cook- 
ing made her Faint. 
After she had broken into Society and was in the 
p Heyday of Prosperity, did she forget Luella? No, 
indeed. She gave Lu a Position as Assistant Cook at 
Five a Week. 

And the Moral was that Industry and Perseverance 
bring a sure Reward. 

That's only a rough idea, but you get the whole 
plot. Just a piece of Cold Truth told jocosely 
in large type and trimmed up with colored phrase- 
ology. 

It was a specimen of willful freakishness rather 
: than an exposition of slang, but it was called slang so 
I as to have an alibi in case of barbarisms, American- 
isms, colloquialisms, provincialisms, or any **ism'* that 
stood on the doubtful list. 

It was simply a gleeful little experiment in out- 
lawry, and was not intended to corrupt the morals of 



12 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Methodist families and teach babes in arms to growfe 
up to be poker players. 

It went into the grist as a thousand other items had 
gone before, and little did I suspect that it was the 
beginning of the end of a serious-minded young 
novelist. 

Next day the score-keepers told me I had knocked 
a home run. 

The young women on the staff told me the piece 
was "just killing." 

I found the head editor giggling over the dam fod 
thing. 

"You've struck a lead," he said. "Follow it up." 

Then I heard from the publisher. 

"Write a lot more of those fables for the paper," 
he said. "Because of the bold type, they are filling; 
and in a little while we can get out a book and substi- 
tute it for The College Widow.' " 

"The College Widow" as a novel never got beyond 
the "dummy" stage. Five years later it appeared as 
a play, and later it was a movie, and only yesterday it 
bobbed up as a musical comedy. 

Closed in upon by frantic advisers, the harried 
author began to write fables in slang with both hands. 

In vain did he protest that he was not a specialist 
in the easy-going vernacular, and that he wanted to 
deal with life as it is instead of verbal buck-dancing 
and a bizarre costuming of capital letters. 

The friends told him to take the gifts that were 
falling into his lap, and not crave the golden persim- 
mons that grow on the hill tops. 

So the crazy fables became a glaring feature of our 
newspaper department, and McCutcheon did most 
amusing imitations of the old-style woodcuts. 

When the first volume called "Fables in Slang" ap- 



GEORGE ADE 13 

peared in the shop windows (impudently bound in 
yellow and black) I began to get messages of com- 
mendation from nearly every one except Mr. Howells. 

I seemed to have tickled the orthodox citizen's 
sneaking fondness for the unconventional. 

Also I learned that, in the writing game, if you have 
for sale an article that is a variation on the standard- 
ized ingredients of a six-and-seven-eighths, cutaway- 
coat newspaper, you can sell it to a great many different 
people and draw many salaries. 

After ten years of clanking toil on a daily paper 
and being heralded as the author of several books, and 
finally earning the sacred privilege of signing my 
initials, I commanded a salary of sixty dollars a 
week. 

Soon after backing out of the newspaper office and 
falling into the arms of the wizard who sold sjmdicate 
features to the daily press, I was getting eight hun- 
dred dollars a week as my share of the conspiracy, and 
later on, the nuggets became larger and we passed the 
thousand mark. 

My father was cashier of a modest county-seat bank 
down in Indiana, and I sent him all my checks, so that 
he could show them to the loyal townspeople, well- 
wishers, and members of the Helping Hand who had 
told him in 1883 that it was a mistake to send me to 
college. 

Father read the fables, and several times he wrote 
and asked if I had concealed from him any of my 
sources of revenue. 

One short story a week instead of six long ones ! 

Checks that looked like three-sheet posters flutter- 
ing out of the large square envelopes used by the gen- 
erous Robin Hood who was taking it away from the 
newspaper owners and sending it on to me ! 



14 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Publishers setting traps for me and baiting them 
with lumps of sugar ! 

Could anything be more salubrious? Apparently 
not. 

In those first breathless days of purple prosperity, 
when the whole world seemed to be slapping me in 
the face with twenty-dollar bills, I had not fully en- 
compassed the fact that the net result of all this Bar- 
num and Bailey presswork would be to make me a 
Professional Slangster for the rest of my life, even if 
I lived to be a thousand years old. 

The idea was to grab a lot of careless money before 
the reading public recovered its equilibrium, and then, 
later on, with bags of gold piled in the doorway to 
keep the wolf out, return to the consecrated job of 
writing long and photographic reports of life in the 
Middle West. 

Man proposes, and a triumvirate composed of the 
tired business man, the lady in the morning wrapper, 
and the human mechanism that sits at a roll-top desk 
do the subsequent disposing. 

So the twentieth century opened up, and I learned 
from the clipping agencies that I was a "humorist." 
I went around denying it, but the newspapers had more 
circulation than I had. 

Of course Mr. Ade is a humorist, and a first-class 
one at that, not essentially because he is a member of 
the National Institute of Arts and Letters, as because 
he has sounded a genuine American note in a manner 
., of his own. The real trouble with the majority of 
people who read him is that they don't take him 
seriously enough : that is, they don't study him : they 
don't realize, as I have already hinted, that if you want 



GEORGE ADE 15 

real information about America, real insight into 
American character snapshots at the American animal 
in his haunts, so to speak, here is where to get it. 

The "highbrows" are doubtless fooled because the 
fable is short, because it is offhand and slangy and 
because it isn't always so funny as it might be. All 
that comes from a mistaken idea about the nature and 
quality of humor. Some people should never attempt 
to read anything humorous. It cannot possibly do them 
any good : it only makes them worse. It is amazing < 
indeed to see how little attention is paid to under- 
standing or reading of humor in our public schools. 
I venture the assertion that a really good piece of 
literary prose humor or humorous verse — sl classic if 
you will — ^would meet with scarcely any appreciation 
by an average class of high-school students. I know 
this because I have tried it. 

It has been my experience that George Ade's 

"Fables" are hard to read aloud to a group of average 

people (if there be such a thing). The reason is 

perfectly plain. These Fables are high literary art, 

but not dramatic art, because the impact of the slang 

word is often just too late to produce the instantaneous 

effect necessary to the listener. This of course is not 

always so: but it is so often enough to make the 

reading of these fables anything but a certainty: 

occasionally a clear-cut phrase will go home with telling 

effect : but, generally speaking, Ade's Fables need to * 

be lingered over in silence: they are concentrated 

food; to be taken as a tonic, say one or two after a 

meal. It is quite natural also that they should not all 

be good : or that some of them should be better than 



i6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

others. But, in this respect, be not deceived. Your 
personal knowledge means much: you are sure to 
respond more to those things which reveal your ovm 
experience: so that if a certain fable appears to fall 
flat, it may easily be because that part of life has not 
particularly touched you. 

They are, in quite a large sense, allegorical. You 
have to rise to the bait yourself. This is the beginning 
of one of Ade's "Fables" : 

Once there was an Indian who had 
a Way of putting on all his Feathers 
and breaking out of the Reservation. 

Think of reading that aloud to a committee of 
eight or ten — say a Board of Education or a Board 
of Health. You would have to explain at once that 
Ade in reality was not talking about an Indian at all: 
that he might indeed be talking about the Qiairman 
of the Committee himself. You would then have to 
make a personal appeal to the Chairman, and ask him 
if he ever felt like an Indian, felt like putting on his 
store clothes, and sneaking out of the side door for 
the purpose of raising Cain. By this time you would 
be engaged in a controversy — which proves certain 
things that those who understand will already know, 
and those who do not understand can never be taught. 

Personally, I haven't read Ade's "Fable of the two 
Mandolin Players'* for some years: but I know pre- 
cisely what kind of "birds" they are, and I like to 
think about them. He did not make me hate or despise 
them — ^he only made me laugh at them. There are 



GEORGE ADE 17 

rtain things inside of me that are just like the things 
side of those two Mandolin Players of Ade's. I 
low they are there because I have been reminded of 
em : and I know there are also other things in other 
ople in the other fables of Ade's that are like the 
her things I have inside of me, and somehow I am 
>t so ashamed of them as I was before I read the 
de "Fables," because it has made me feel after all, 
at we are all of us, East and West and North and 
Duth, a great deal alike : made up of about the same 
trts, in various combinations. 

George Ade united with the late Henry James the 
stinction of having achieved literary fame without 
:nefit of clergy : that is to say, without matrimonial 
d. This is the only respect, however, in which they 
>pear to have anything in common. Henry James 
omed his native land — George Ade revels in his 
idiana farm. Henry James took himself seriously 
id wrote in a language that few understand. George 
de snapped his countrymen, living among them and 
)ing them good by his presence. His slang is almost 
holly his own: you see plainly where he gets it 
om : but he rolls it a little and fits it in and changes 
to suit his plan. It is impossible to overestimate the^ 
iconscious effect of a George Ade upon a generation : 
combination of naturalness, common sense, sympathy, 
illery, tolerance — ^this gives us glimpses of ourselves, 
at as a corrective, is an asset for genuine Democracy \ 
uch more powerful than we have any idea of. Thafritl 
nd of humor which reflects American traits : rough ^ 

spots, dull in spots, but true in its essence and un- 
inted by foreign influences — ^that is extremely valu- 



i8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

able to us as a people: highly sanitary, and serves, 
possibly more than we realize, to keep us in control 
of ourselves at critical moments. This kind of raillery, 
of frankness, displayed in our train of humorists — 
Josh Billings, Artemus Ward, Mark Twain, George 
Ade and other natives — came out of the original town 
meeting — sl by-product of the process of self-govem- 

y ment. It has helped to make of the American people — 
climatically nervous and daring— one of the most 
patient and tolerant peoples in the world. Character- 
ized by the bluster and brag that comes as the after- 
math of the conquering of a new continent, with the 
rawness and vulgarity that jars upon Dreiser so much 
— ^all this in its full uninterrupted swing doubtless is 
offensive: but with it, this rough sense of humor — 
the capacity, so to speak, to "josh" oneself has given 
us something as a corrective which will be a large help 
as we grow up into more "cultured** ways. Besides, 
I am not so sure that this America of ours is so crude 
a thing as the critics would have. Art is not con- 
fined to any medium. In new forms it is misunder* 
stood in the beginning, and it is quite possible that 
in a larger sense there is an art to the living of a 
national life by a whole people far beyond any particu- 

^ lar form of art. The Greeks developed the highest 
sense of art in Architecture, Sculpture, Philosophy, 
Drama, but they broke down in the art of preserving 
themselves. It is possible that America is developing 
a soul — something hitherto thought superfluous in a 
Christian people. 

It remains only to answer the question; Why is it 
that American writers, and in particular American 



GEORGE ADE 19 

humorists, move along such restricted lines — ^never get 
beyond a certain point — in contrast with their British 
prototypes? Alexis de Tocqueville, a most acute ob- 
server, who wrote when this country was first forming, 
has declared that, in a democracy, the same attention 
cannot be paid to letters as in an aristocracy. "Most 
of those who have some tinge of belles-lettres are 
either engaged in politics or in a profession which only 
allows them to taste occasionally and by stealth the 
pleasures of the mind. . . . They prefer books which 
may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require 
no learned researches to be understood . . . above all, 
they must have what is new and unexpected." 

In short, the American audience is too heterogenous, 
too mixed and scattered, too much occupied with mate- 
rial excitements. St. John Ervine, a more recent 
observer, attributes our lack of literature to the so- 
called process of standardization. "Standardization," 
he says, "means the destruction of individual prefer- 
ences. ... it is not difficult to prophesy that the out- 
come of it will be sterility of the soul. ... A great 
literature cannot flourish in an atmosphere of initiation 
and suppressed personality, and unless America can 
somehow solve this problem of making a man's in- 
dividuality grow and become vivid, there is slight like- 
lihood of her making credit for herself with an art 
or a literature to which the world will 3aeld respect." 

From this standpoint, if you will, the fault lies not 
with the individual himself, but in the nature of things. 
In the case of George Ade, it is not his fault, but that 
of the audience, and the audience is the country. Here 
is a writer of undoubted native genius, a national 



20 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

humorist who achieves celebrity as the author of 
"Fables in Slang/' and there stops. In the midst of 
a world upheaval, and a silent revolution in our own 
country that is producing astonishing changes in our 
body politic, we ask ourselves why no great writer 
arises, why no great satirist holds over us the whip 
of scorn, why it is that with so much material for the 
universal humorists, there is no universal humorist. 
The answer is that we don't want him. We have 
no time to listen to him. And unless we cultivate 
within ourselves the need of him» he will not grow up 
out of us. 



CHAPTER II 



F. P. A. 



I HOPE you won't quote directly," writes F. P. A. 
"I write so much about myself every day that I 
am weary of the subject." 
The handling of oneself in a daily column is in itself 
m art so delicate that it almost requires a special ex- 
planation. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the per-? 
jonal pronoun, "I," enters very largely into the work 
>f every humorist. With one or two exceptions, it 
s common to all American humorists. It is quite 
egitimate, but dangerous to an amateur. Franklin F. 
\dams certainly does it better than anyone I know, 
tie could not do it unless his work was based upon 
he utmost sincerity. 

In my opinion, he is the first columnist now writings 
n America. There are doubtless other men writing 
)ther columns who have qualities leading in certain 
lirections beyond F. P. A. I should say that Don - 
Marquis goes beyond him in the creative expression 
)f a joyous humor, and in richness of imagination* 
But that is beside the mark, as I am not considering 
heir relative merits. As an all-around columnist, with 
ill that the word implies, I think Adams more nearly 
fulfills every requirement than any other writer. He.« 
lias literary integrity, a sense of humor, and restraint. 

21 



22 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

He is not perfect. Nobody that I know an3rthing 
about, is. His literary judgment is invariably good, 
but his taste is sometimes at fault, as when he prints 
paragraphs occasionally that hurt needlessly, and are 
not always in full sympathy with the subject satirized. 
It is a great art in itself to deal with something that 
you think needs correction in such a manner as to be 
helpful and not destructive — although, in connection 
with this, I may say that the word "destructive** has 
been sadly abused. It is much too easy, when we don't 
agree with somebody, to say that his work is 
destructive. When Adams writes down anybody, be it 
in a paragraph or in a single line, he never does it 
with evil intention ; on the other hand, I think it is true 
that he has been a great help to letters in keeping 
up a certain standard. It seems to me that he must 
have had a great influence over a large body of chance 
readers. 

He was born in Chicago, November 15, 1881. 
Armour Scientific Academy (1895- 1899). University 
of Michigan (1899-1900). He left the University of 
Michigan in his freshman year and took a job as in- 
surance supply clerk with Adolph Loeb & Son, Chicago, 
in June, 1900. He went into the life insurance busi- 
ness as solicitor in 1902 and in October, 1903, got a 
job conducting a column of verse and miscellany, 
called "A Little about Everything," in the Chicago 
Journal, The only stuff he had written was what he 
had contributed to Bert Leston Taylor's column, "A 
Line-o-Type or Two," in the Chicago Tribune. At the 
time he got the Journal job, Taylor had left Chicago, 
and was on the staff of Puck. Adams got $25 a week 



F. P. A. 23 

for his column and a daily weather story. Later he 
was advanced to $30 and allowed to sign his initials. 

After a year on the Chicago Journal F. P. A. went 
to New York. Mr. T. E. Niks of the Evening Mail 
said he was willing to try him out. Thereupon he 
returned home and resigned from the Chicago Journal 
and moved to New York regularly in October, 1904. 
He conducted the column, "Always in Good Humor" 
— a misnomer of a title saddled on it on its first day 
by Mr. Henry L. Stoddard — ^until January i, 1914, 
when he went to the New York Tribune to conduct 
"The Conning Tower." With the exception of the 
war's interruption, the column has been running since 
then. In 1922 Mr. Adams moved to the New York 
World. 

He began to write by sending stuff to Taylor's 
column, and it was reading Eugene Field that interested 
him in verse. His preparation was mostly mathe- 
matical and scientific; English was almost neglected 
in the curriculum. But he learned to have a respect 
for truth and accuracy in English from the mathe- 
matics professor. Professor Victor Clifton Alderson; 
and a veneration for honesty and fearlessness of ex- 
pression from Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch of Chicago. He 
says of himself that he never attained the ideals the 
examples of these men made him hope for, but they 
kept him straighter than he might otherwise have 
been. 

"I try as hard as I can and I have entire freedom," 
he once told me. "Nobody ever tells me to write this, 
or not to write that. That is the discouraging part. 
A man with that leeway ought to have more to say 



24 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

than I have and be able to say it better than I do. Yoa 
have no idea how that corrodes, that consciou^ess/' 

Mr. Adams's verse is of a high order. Along so 
much that is good, it is difficult to make a selection, 
but the lines that follow are undoubtedly among his 
best: 






Song of Synthetic Virility 

Oh, some may sing of the surging sea, or chant of the 

raging main ; 
Or tell of the taffrail blown away by the raging 

hurricane. 
With an oh, for the feel of the salt sea spray as it 

stipples the guffy's cheek! 
And oh, for the sob of the creaking mast and the hal- 
yard's aching squeak ! 
And some may sing of the galley-foist, and some of 

the quadrireme 
And some of the day the xebec came and hit us abaft 

the beam. 
Oh, some may sing of the girl in Kew that died for 

a sailor's love, 
And some may sing of the surging sea, as I may have 

observed above. 

Oh, some may long for the Open Road, or crave for 

the prairie breeze. 
And some, o'ersick of the city's strain, may yearn for 

the whispering trees. 
With an oh, for the rain to cool my face, and the wind 

to blow my hair ! 
And oh, for the trail to Joyous Garde, where I may 

find my fair I 



F. P. A. 25 

id some may love to lie in the field in the stark and 

silent night, 
le glistering dew for a coverlet and the moon and 

stars for light, 
t others sing of the s6ughing pines and the winds 

that rustle and roar, 
id others long for the Open Road, as I may have 

remarked before. 

r, some may sing of the bursting bomb and the 

screech of a screaming shell, 
tell the tale of the cruel trench on the other side 

of heU. 
id some may talk of the ten-mile hike in the dead 

of a winter night, 
id others chaunt of the doughtie K)mg with mickle 

valour dight. 
id some may long for the song of a child and the 

lullaby's fairy charm, 
id others yearn for the crack of the bat and the 

wind of the pitcher's arm. 
I, some have longed for this and that, and others 

have craved and yearned ; 
id they all may sing of whatever they like, as far 

as I'm concerned. 



\ 



CHAPTER III 

JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 

WHILE this book was in process, there occurred 
the sad death of John Kendrick Bangs, who 
for many years has been a familiar figure on 
the lecture platform, where he amused and enlightened 
thousands of people, and whose life was more intimately 
connected with the history of comic journalism of the 
past twenty-five years than that of any other man. 
Mr. Bangs was one of the principal factors in the 
development of this journalism, which in years gone 
by was represented by the old Vanity Fair, later by 
Puck and thereafter by Life. Before he became the 
editor of Puck, however, Mr. Bangs was the editor 
of "The Drawer," in Harper's Magazine, At the same 
time he had charge of the back page of the old Harper's 
Bazar, This back page was in its day quite famous 
and at that time was representative of the best short 
humor published. The great publishing firm of 
Harper & Brothers had its headquarters in Franklin 
Square. In those days it was what may be termed the 
periodical center of the United States. Mr. Howells 
was there then, Charles Dudley Warner, and indeed 
a whole group of men whose names have since been 

26 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 27 

enrolled in the annals of our literature. Mr. Henry 
M. Alden, whose remarkable record as the editor of 
Harper's Magazine has, if I am correct, never been 
exceeded in length, and certainly not in honor, was 
there at that time. 

I myself was one of the chance contributors to 
Harper's "Drawer'' and the Bazar, I used to hand in 
my effusions once a week. On my first visit I was 
personally received by Mr. Bangs, who invited me to 
be seated while he read my "copy." Mr. Bangs, as 
one might have said during the war, was a "cordial and 
sincere'' person and doubtless mitigated the effect of 
his decisions as much as possible by his sympathetic 
manner. Still, the ordeal was a painful one, I fancy, 
for him as well as for myself. To sit in the actual 
presence of an impartial but, of necessity, a ruthless 
editor while he reads things of your very own which 
you have fondly hoped would induce him to laugh — 
to see him frown and, ever and anon, look puzzled — 
and then to see him lay by the whole miserable week's 
output with a sigh — all this is not conducive to the 
most lasting tranquillity. 

After our first melancholy interview, in which Mr. 
Bangs, who did his best to work up a faint smile, 
decided that one of my pieces was "good enough," we 
agreed there and then that, in the future, I was to wait 
outside. Thereafter I would call on a certain day, 
hand my manuscript to the office boy, who would take 
it through the long editorial room to Mr. Bangs's 
dingy sanctum. A period of intense silent agony would 
then ensue, while Bangs was engaged in his mournful 
diversion. Once, in the gray distance, I heard a peal 



28 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

of hearty laughter, and felt, as Oliver Wendell Holmes 
suggests in his delightful verses, that I had "dared" 
to be too funny. Alas ! It was not the voice of Bangs, 
it was only two remote and irreverent gentlemen — I 
think one of them was Richard Harding Davis — telling 
stories. 

After waiting thus in horrible suspense for what 
seemed an eternity, the nonchalant boy would re- 
luctantly emerge from the Bangs's sanctimi and stroll 
forward to where I sat, with my envelope in his hand. 
Bangs would indicate what he had accepted, and I 
would go my way joyless or rejoicing as the case might 
be. 

Before he became the editor of Harper's "Drawer," 
Bangs was the associate editor of Life. In fact, as 
he himself states, he was Mr. Mitchell's first assistant. 
Mr. John Ames Mitchell (long-time editor of Life, 
author of "Amos Judd," "The Pines of Lory," etc.) 
founded Life, with Andrew Miller and Edward S. 
Martin, in 1883. Bangs came to assist him the follow- 
ing year. At this time Puck was the leading pictorial 
humorous periodical of America. I purposely avoid 
using the word "comic" in connection with Puck be- 
cause Puck was never a comic journal in the sense in 
which George Meredith used the word comedy, and 
which I take it to be the best sense. Keppler's cartoons 
in Puck gave it a national reputation. One of its 
earliest literary features, however, (Fitznoodle) which 
attracted wide attention was, as I recollect, written by 
an Englishman. It was tmder the editorship of Mr. 
H. C. Bunner that Puck later achieved its preeminence 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 29 

as a purveyor of the very best American humor. Yet 
it cannot be said of Bunner, as it might have been said, 
and has indeed been said of Mitchell, that he had the 
spirit of comedy, although I think his occasional touches 
of whimsicality lend the appearance of it to his 
work (notably in his story "The Love Letters of 
Smith"). Bunner had fine literary judgment, good 
taste and editorial ability of a high order, and he made 
Puck an influential journal. Mitchell had within him 
quite strongly the spirit of true comedy. Professor 
Brander Matthews (as will appear later) seems to feel 
that Bunner also had comedy. It may be so. George 
Meredith in his essay on comedy and the uses of the 
comic spirit (which I advise everyone to read if they 
would know what comedy really is) writes: 

Good comedies are such rare productions, that not- 
withstanding the wealth of our literature in the comic 
element, it would not occupy us long to run over the 
English list. 

There are plain reasons why the Comic poet is not 
a frequent apparition; and why the great Comic poet 
remains without a fellow. A society of cultivated men 
and women is required, wherein ideas are current and 
the perceptions quick that he may be supplied with 
matter and an audience. The semi-barbarism of 
merely giddy communities, and feverish emotional 
periods, repel him: and also state of marked social 
inequality of the sexes : nor can he whose business is 
to address the mind be understood where there is not 
a moderate degree of intellectual activity. Moreover, 
to touch and kindle the mind through laughter, de- 
mands more than sprightliness, a most subtle delicacy. 



30 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

And again: 

The laughter of satire is a blow in the back or the 
face. The laughter of Comedy is impersonal and of 
unrivaled politeness, nearer a smile: often no more 
than a smile. It laughs through the mind, for the mind 
directs it; and it might be called the humor of the 
mind. One excellent test of the civilization of a coun- 
try, as I have said, I take to be the flourishing of the 
Comic idea and Comedy : and the test of true Comedy 
is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter. 

In this sense then. Life was a more comic journal 
than Puck, Bunner had humor and sentiment. 
Mitchell undoubtedly had more of the comic spirit. 
Bangs helped Mitchell at first with Life, Later on, 
he became editor of Harper's "Drawer" and in 1904, 
became editor of Piick, But the moment had passed 
to restore its energies even by the help of such a 
fruitful mind as Bangs*. It descended finally into the 
arms of Mr. Hearst, perhaps the greatest comedian 
this country has produced (with the possible exception 
of Mr. Bryan) but who was unable to save it. 

At this point it may not be out of place to quote 
Professor Brander Matthews, who undoubtedly knows 
more about our literature than any living man and 
who, in an article in the Bookman entitled "American 
Comic Journalism," writes : 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 31 



American Comic Journalism 



Comic papers are like two of their constant butts, 
the baby and the widower, in that they are difficult 
to carry through the second summer. In humorous 
journalism the percentage of infant mortality is ap- 
pallingly high. Evidently the undertaking is far more 
hazardous than it seems at first sight. It might be 
said that starting a comic paper is no joke — ^that it is 
in fact a very serious enterprise not to be entered upon 
lightly. 

Puck survived for more than forty years; it was 
the first American comic weekly to establish itself 
successfully, and it had a longer lease of life than any 
of its predecessors. It leaves behind it two journals 
which were more or less its rivals. Judge was set up 
avowedly as an opposition paper by the Blaine Repub- 
licans when Puck abandoned its early political inde- 
pendence to advocate ardently the cause of the 
Cleveland Democrats. Life was the creation of John 
A. Mit hell, who conducted it for thirty-five years, 
impressing upon it his own genial personality and 
winning the affectionate devotion of all his contrib- 
utors, both literary and artistic. 

One reason for the popularity of all three of these 
humorous journals is that no one of them was in- 
tended to be an imitation of Punch, but felt itself free 
always to develop as it might prefer. Punch is the 
most solidly established comic paper in the world, and 
it has loyally preserved its original characteristics. It 
is essentially and fundamentally British; and yet this 
comic weekly, as its title still confesses — Punch or the 



32 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

London Charivari — ^was founded as an imitation of 
a famous Parisian comic daily. The abiding vitality 
of Punch is due to a variety of causes — ^first of all, 
to the continuity of ownership; secondly to the large 
staff retained year after year on satisfactory annual 
salaries ; and thirdly to the solidarity created and kept 
alive by the weekly dinner which every contributor with 
either pen or pencil is expected to attend. The tradi- 
tion established four score years ago is jealously 
cherished, and the torch is passed down from genera- 
tion to generation with its flame ever brightly burning. 

Of course, Punch is glad to consider the voluntary 
offerings sent to it by casual correspondents scattered 
throughout the British commonwealth ; but it does not 
rely on these volunteers. It has its tried and true bat- 
talion of regulars, to be trusted to supply the comic 
copy and the comic sketches which must be forthcom- 
ing week after week. Now and again a free-lance 
may have a happy thought; and Punch is unfailingly 
hospitable to happy thoughts, no matter whence they 
come. But the burden and heat of the day is borne 
by the cautiously recruited staff, each of whom felt it 
an honor to be invited to a seat at the weekly dinner 
and each of whom continues to feel it to be his duty to 
give to the venerable weekly the very best that he 
can do. 

Artemus Ward, at the height of his London suc- 
cess and only a few weeks before his untimely death, 
was asked to contribute a few letters and he was bidden 
as a guest to the dinners ; and he declared that this was 
the most grateful compliment that had ever been paid 
to him. And Mark Twain also appreciated highly the 
invitation to put his legs under Mr. Punch's mahog- 
any. 

Punch being what it is, we need not wonder that 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 33 

innumerable attempts have been made to start an 
American Punch; nor need we wonder that these efforts 
have always been fruitless. Indeed, the very fact that 
the new weekly was an imitation of Punch seems to 
have been sufficient to condemn it to an early death. 
In Orpheus C. Kerr's parody, "The Mystery of Mr. 
E. Drood," the lugubrious undertaker points out the 
last resting-places of men foredoomed to an early 
death: "He patched up all these graves, as well as 
them in the Ritual Churchyard, and I knew them all, 
sir. Over there, editor of a country journal; next, 
stockholder in Erie; next, the gentleman who under- 
took to be guided in agriculture by Mr. Greeley's 'What 
I Know About Farming*; next, original projector of 
American Punch; next, proprietor of rural newspaper ; 
next, another projector of American Punch — indeed, 
all the rest of that row is American Punches/* 

Punch had been founded in 1841 ; and half a dozen 
years later Yankee Doodle evoked an epigrammatic 
couplet in Lowell's "Fable for Critics" : 

That American "Punch," like the English, no doubt. 
Just the sugar and lemons and spirit, left out. 

It may be noted that F. O. C. Darley was one of the 
artists who contributed to Yankee Doodle and Charles 
Fenno Hoffman was one of the literary men. A sec- 
ond attempt was made by John Brougham, who started 
Diogenes hys Lanterne in 1852, and who succeeded 
somehow in keeping it alight for eighteen months. 
The third effort was Vanity Fair which began in Jan- 
uary, 1859, and which did not succumb until 1863, 
when Artemus Ward was its editor. He is said to 
have remarked: "They told me I could write comic 
copy; I wrote a lot of it — ^and the paper died." An 



34 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

earlier editor had been Charles Godfrey Leland, the 
lyrist of Hans Breitmann; and George Arnold was a 
regular contributor. Its cartoonist was H. L. 
Stephens, who also supplied the cartoons for Mrs. 
Grundy which had a brief career in 1865 and which 
may be regarded as an attempt to revive Vanity 
Fair, 

Thomas Nast had been one of the artists on Mrs. 
Grundy and shortly after its demise he joined the staflF 
of Harper's Weekly where he was free to point the 
finger of scorn at the Tweed ring, then engaged in 
plundering New York. Tweed felt the force of Nast's 
cartoons and complained that they reached his con- 
stituents, all of whom could see a picture, even if only 
a few of them could read. It was probably the desire 
to have an organ of their own which led Tweed and 
Sweeny, Jay Gould and "J^"^" ^isk to put in five 
thousand dollars each, for the support of Punchinello, 
which first appeared in April, 1870, and which emitted 
its final squeak in the following December. H. L. 
Stephens was again the cartoonist ; and among the other 
contributors of sketches were Frank Bellew and George 
Bowlend. Oakey Hall, the Tammany mayor of New 
York, supplied an alleged comic serial bristling with 
elaborate puns. The dramatic critic was William L. 
Alden and the editor was Charles Dawson Shanly, 
who had been one of the conductors of Vanity Fair 
and who wrote for The Atlantic an interesting essay 
on the difficulties of editing an American Punch. 



II 

The solid success that Puck enjoyed for nearly a 
quarter of a century must be ascribed to a series of 
lucky accidents. Adolf Schwarzmann was a lith- 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 35 

ographer in St. Louis and he joined forces with Joseph 
Keppler, a lithographic draftsman, to get out a little 
German weekly, illustrated in color and intended to 
circulate mainly among the theater-going Germans of 
St. Louis. After a while they both removed to New 
York, where they revived their German weekly with 
its colored cartoons drawn on stone. They had a small 
staff; and they borrowed a large proportion of their 
comic cuts from the German humorous papers. The 
cartoons of Keppler were so effective that Puck was 
read by many Americans; and at last Mr. Sydney 
Rosen f eld was able to persuade Schwarzmann that it 
would be possible to issue Puck also in English, so 
that Keppler's drawings might profit by circulation 
among Americans of other than German descent. 

Rosenfeld was the first editor of Puck in English; 
and he immediately enlisted the aid of his friend, 
Henry Cuyler Bunner, who had worked with him on 
an earlier and less fortunate weekly. In the beginning 
the English Puck was simply an annex to the German 
Puck. Its political and social cartoons were in accord 
with German taste rather than with American; and 
the paper in English was expected to make use of all 
the comic cuts which had earlier appeared in the paper 
in German. It was, I think, in the fall of 1876 that 
this hybrid weekly began to attract attention. Those 
were the doubtful days of the Hayes-Tilden disputed 
election, happily decided at last by the ingeni- 
ously devised Electoral Commission which ultimately 
awarded the presidency to Hayes by a vote of eight to 
seven ; and Keppler never drew a more telling cartoon 
than that which disclosed the seven Democrats in a 
rat-trap the wires of which outlined the profiles of the 
eight Republicans. 

It was early in 1877 ^^^^ I made my first contribu- 



36 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

tion to Puck and that I accepted its editor's invitation 
to call on him at the office, then in a dingy old build- 
ing in North William Street, soon to be torn down for 
the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. On the ground 
floor were the lithographic presses ; on the floor above 
was the composing room; and in a dim corner of the 
top loft was the editor's desk. Rosenfeld introduced 
me to Bunner ; and then began a friendship which re- 
mained intimate as long as he lived. A few weeks 
later Rosenfeld had a disagreement with Schwarz- 
mann, and as a result Bunner became editor of Puck 
which soon achieved its independence of its German 
half-brother — ^that is to say, a time came when Puck 
in English had a far larger circulation than Puck in 
German; and ultimately the weekly edited by Bunner 
so far outstripped its elder brother that Schwarzmann 
finally ceased to issue the paper in German. 

Ill 

Necessary as were the artistic facility of Keppler 
and the business acumen of Schwarzmann, the quali- 
ties which Bunner brought to the editorship were 
equally needful. Without him the Puck of Teutonic 
origin and ownership could never have been made ac- 
ceptable to the American people. He spoke German; 
and he knew German literature ; but he was also famil- 
iar with French and his acquaintance with French 
literature was both wider and deeper than his knowl- 
edge of German literature. And wider and deeper 
than either was his intimacy with the literature of our 
own language, both British and American. His was 
the only useful cosmopolitanism, that which is rooted 
in a man's native soil. His reading was really re- 
markable in its range, when we remember that he was 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 37 

not twenty-three years old when he took charge of 
Puck. 

Remarkable as was Banner's equipment it was not 
as extraordinary as his fecundity. Into Puck in its 
struggling days he poured prose and verse of an un- 
faltering cleverness and of an unfailing sparkle. He 
was equally apt and swift in writing a column of brisk 
paragraphs and in rhyming a lilting l)rric to justify the 
insertion of some German illustration. Abundant as 
were these contributions in quantity they were equally 
notable in quality. As Puck became more prosperous 
and its editor was allowed to spend money a little more 
freely, Bunner was able to relax his own efforts, al- 
though to the very end of his life he felt and responded 
to the obligation to supply his paper with the various 
kinds of writing that its readers expected from him. 

One of the most abundant contributors to the letter- 
press of Puck was Mr. James L. Ford, who printed in 
its columns most of the satiric sketches afterward 
collected in the volume entitled "The Literary Shop," 
including the ever delightful story of "The Bunco- 
Steerer's Christmas.*' Another frequent contributor 
was the late R. K. Munkittrick, a most ingenious 
rhymester, who supplied to Puck most of the comic 
lyrics which he garnered later into the little book which 
he aptly called "The Acrobatic Muse." So long as 
Bunner lived the comic verse which appeared in the 
pages of Puck was kept up to a high standard of tech- 
nical accomplishment. He insisted on distinctness of 
rhythm and on exact accuracy of rhyme. He tolerated 
no slovenliness in versification ; and he himself set the 
example of strict obedience to the rules of the game. 
Inspired by the unfailing felicity of Austin Dobson's 
transference into English of the fixed forms of the 
French, Bunner and his associates poured into the 



38 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

pages of Puck a flowing stream of triolets, rondeaus, 
and ballades. 

Of course, no one of these friendly rivals equaled 
Bunner either in facility or in range. As a comic poet 
he had a note of his own ; but he was also a marvelous 
parodist, with the rare gift of capturing the spirit of 
the poet he was imitating, as sympathetically as he 
aped the outer form. It was to exhibit this power of 
getting into the skin of any other bard, ancient or 
modern, that Bunner invented the figure of V. Hugo 
Dusenbury, Professional Poet, ready to take a con- 
tract to deal with any theme at any time in any man- 
ner. Nor was Bunner less multifarious in his prose 
contributions. He early appreciated the surpassing 
skill of Maupassant's brief tales; and in ''Made in 
France" he accomplished successfully the daring feat 
of transferring a dozen of the French plots to 
American surroundings. And it was more or less 
under the influence of Maupassant that he wrote his 
own very American and very original series of stories 
called "Short Sixes.*' 

It may seem like a paradox to say that the influence 
of a comic journal depends to a certain extent upon its 
not being exclusively comic. On occasion Punch can 
be nobly serious, as it was when it printed Hood's 
"Song of the Shirt" and Tom Taylor's apologetic 
verses on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Bunner 
never liked to have Puck considered as merely a funny 
paper. His own memorial verses — on Grant and on 
Longfellow, for example — were dignified and lofty. 
And when Cleveland issued his message on the tariff, 
warning us that we were confronted by a condition and 
not by a theory, Bunner began a series of editorial ar- 
ticles which revealed a new aspect of his ability. He 
expounded the principles of protection and free trade 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 39 

with the utmost lucidity and with a total absence of 
heat. 

Bunner was the editor of Puck for nearly twenty 
years, during which the paper steadily expanded its 
circulation and its influence. Keppler died in 1894 
and Bunner followed him in 1896, leaving Schwarz- 
mann alone to carry on the paper. But Puck had de- 
pended largely upon individuals, upon Keppler and 
Bunner first of all, and then upon more or less casual 
contributors. It was edited at one time by Harry Leon 
Wilson and at another by John Kendrick Bangs. But 
there was no permanent staflF, no loyal organization, 
no solidarity, like that which has kept alive the tradi- 
tions of Punch for three generations. And when 
Schwarzmann died in his turn, the torch flickered and 
soon went out. There was nothing left but a name — 
only an empty shell. The paper changed owners two 
or three times, passing at last into hands so unworthy 
that its old friends were not sorry to learn that it had 
ceased publication. 

The part that Bangs played in the development of 
this "comic" journalism has already been indicated. 
For many years (in addition to his published books) 
he poured forth a stream of remarkably sane and 
highly intelligent humor. I am inclined to credit him 
with more of this true spirit of comedy than so many 
of his contemporaries: His *Tdiot'' and "Houseboat" 
are examples. The fact is, as Meredith indicates, the 
American audience is not quite up to this sort of thing. 
Both Aristophanes and Moliere would have a hard 
time among us, although I am inclined to think 
Aristophanes would fare much better. 

Bangs was not only an editor and a "humorist," 



40 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

but his remarkable abilities as a lecturer must be again 
y referred to. As an oratorical entertainer of a very high 
order he has few equals. During the war he threw 
himself with his untiring energy into the work of 
rehabilitating devastated France, and in this field his 
labors were extraordinary and highly valuable. In 
the following interesting paper which he wrote and 
sent to me before his death he gives a most modest and 
characteristic account of himself. 

The Confession of John Kendrick Bangs 

Although I was not able to prove the fact to the 
entire satisfaction of the Passport Division of the 
United States Department of State during the war, 
I was, like most of my contemporaries, bom. I have 
no distinct recollection of the event, but there is credible 
testimony from persons in whose veracity I have had 
perfect confidence, notably my father, that the thing 
really did happen, and the fact that I undoubtedly do 
exist at this writing would seem to lend the color of 
truth to the assertion. The date of the episode has 
been reported to me as of May 27, 1862. Reference 
to the newspapers of that period fails to disclose any 
particular public interest in the incident. I do not find 
anjnvhere any announcement of my arrival among other 
prominent persons in town, but it is possible that the 
news of my coming was crowded out by items of pos- 
sibly larger popular interest concerning a Civil War 
which at that time was being waged between two sec- 
tions of the United States, familiarly known to 
students of History as the North and the South. The 
town of this presumed nativity was Yonkcrs, New 
York, located at that time about fifteen miles from New 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 41 

York City, but now its too proximate fiext-door 
neighbor. The house overlooked the Hudson, and was 
shaded by noble elms, but latter-day improvements 
combined with the onward march of civilization have 
changed matters so that it now looks out upon long 
lines of cattle-cars stretching north and south upon the 
rails of the New York Central Railroad, and is 
sheltered from the burning rays of the afternoon sun 
by an eight-story sugar-refinery, whose classic lines 
suggest the most flourishing period of the Gothic- 
Vandalian Renaissance. I attribute the intense cos- 
mopolitan quality of my nature to the fact that I was 
bom in Yonkers, since by it I escaped the narrow pro- 
vinciality of the average New Yorker, and as a com- 
muter became at an early age a traveler by sheer 
compulsion. I also attribute my sturdy Americanism 
to my Westchester County birth, for, as I understand 
the situation, to be born in New York City is an almost 
certain indication *of an alien strain whose prenatal 
affiliations are mainly either Slavic or Neo-Tipperarian. 
The foundations of what education I have were 
laid in an early collection of postage-stamps, which I 
well remember as one of my treasured possessions at 
the age of five. From it I gained a considerable 
knowledge of geography, and of history. I learned 
my letters on the block system, and my first conscious 
reading was in a little cloth-covered volume, abundantly 
illustrated with rich-hued wood-cuts, entitled **Mother 
Goose's Melodies." I do not wish to include in this 
biographical sketch an)^hing of an invidious nature, 
but I cannot escape the conviction that for a very real 
inspiration, for literary form, for nicety of touch, del- 
icacy of feeling, and, above all, high intelligence, the 
contents of that volume far excelled anything that I 
have read in the effusions of our latter-day poets. 



42 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

From nursery to school was but a stq), and at the age 
of seven I found myself headed for omniscience in 
the primary school, conducted by a great human in 
New York City named Morris W. Lyon. He was a 
man of rare parts, vigorous, stern, sympathetic, and a 
master of all that he taught. There was more disci- 
pline in one flash of his eye than I have since been able 
to discover in the combined torches of any ten of our 
modern universities. The boy was as much his con- 
cern as the teaching of the boy, and I am inclined to 
think that his urge was to turn out Individuals rather 
than what, for want of a better term, I may call Human 
Flivvers, which is the tendency of our Twentieth- 
Century Educational Works. At any rate, whether 
for good or for evil, my good teacher discovered at 
an early period of his association with me that there 
was a special affinity between words and myself, and 
while he did his best with the poor soil at his com- 
mand to make me fructify along mathematical and 
other necessary lines, he devoted himself to the culti- 
vation and control of the streams of verbosity, written, 
spoken, whispered, and signaled, of which I appeared 
to be, and undoubtedly was, a fount. I was especially 
encouraged to write compositions, and these I produced 
at fortnightly intervals throughout seven joyous school- 
years, expressing ideas either immature or over- 
advanced in six or eight times as many words as the 
case required, with a facility which I now recognize 
as a weakness. At the foot, and sometimes below it, 
in all my other classes, I invariably led my class in 
composition from the beginning to the end of my 
school life. I mention this in no spirit of vainglory, 
but in an endeavor to explain what has been rather 
one of my faults, for it is a sad fact that one of the 
bases of merit in those far-off writing days of mine 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 43 

was length, fluency, always a fatal gift, rather than 
conciseness operating to the advantage of my stand- 
ing. I had not then, any more than I have now, the 
slightest desire either to rank or pose as a humorist, 
but it so happened that my glorious father, a man of 
infinite wit, used always to give me for the embellish- 
ment of my effort some story inextricably interwoven 
with laughter which I never failed to avail myself of, 
with the result that when on Commencement Day I 
read aloud to the assembled parents of my schoolmates 
the chosen product of the year there was always a 
laughing response from the audience, so that in a way 
I unconsciously began to measure my little success by 
the amount of smiling encouragement received. 

My college life at Columbia College was but an ex- 
pansion of my school life. Columbia was at that time, 
1897 to 1883, in a state of transition, and the liaison 
between the old and the new was attended by difficul- 
ties. There was no adequate course in English Letters 
at Columbia at that period, and what knowledge I 
gained of the Masters of English I gathered wholly 
from my own reading outside of the collegiate walls, 
mostly from English novelists, and American ro- 
mancers — Dickens, Thackeray, Bulwer, Hawthorne, 
and Poe. I loved Dickens, admired Thackeray, reveled 
in Bulwer, rejoiced in Hawthorne, and found a certain 
morbid enchantment in the fancies of Poe. So much 
indeed was I enchanted by Poe that, for a time, had 
not other influences intervened I think my whole liter- 
ary career, if I may so call it, would have been directed 
exclusively to the production of tales of weird and 
morbid cast. Fortunately for me the intervening in- 
fluences prevailed. I became the editor of the Acta 
Columbiana, a fortnightly publication of the usual 
undergraduate type, wherein I was required to be 



I 



r 



44 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

sportive rather than ponderously solemn, and to this 
work I devoted myself so assiduously that it has now 
become a wonder to me that my Alma Mater was ever 
willing to give me the degree of Ph.B., conferred upon 
me at Commencement. However this may be, it is the 
fact that my experience as a college editor was the 
point of diversion which started me from what might 
have been to that which is, for printing-office contacts 
brought me into a close personal relation with my in- 
spiring friend the late John A. Mitchell, the founder 
of L}fe. We used to meet in the press-room where 
both Life and the Acta were printed. When we first 
met Mitchell was a tyro at editing, and, callow youth 
as I was, I had become a veteran — ^not an expert, but 
an old hand at the technique of it, and the instances 
were many when the presuming amateur was able to 
render "First Aid*' to the professional. Words can- 
not express how I felt then, or how I feel now, in 
regard to Mitchell. He was one of the three most 
lovable men I have ever known. The first was my 
father, and the second was my later chief, the 
dearest of my friends, Mr. J. Henry Harper. 
Mitchell was many years older than I, but he 
never lost the spirit of youth, and when he offered 
me the post of assistant editor of Life, the Law for 
which I seemed doomed, lost me forever. Aside from 
the rare joy of his friendship, he rendered me the in- 
estimable service of taking me out of the clutches of 
the gloomster and set me upon the highways leading 
to more joyous prospects. I think too that from him 
I gained my first intimation that good humor was 
good-humored, and that underneath true humor must 
lie something in the nature of serious thinking. 

Nevertheless, in spite of four very happy years as 
Mitchell's assistant, the earlier influences remained in 



JOHN KENDRICK BANGS 45 

modified form. I delighted in ghost stories, and in 
tales having to do with the vagaries of the human 
mindy and when I came to the writing of stories my- 
self, those stories dealt largely with apparitions, only 
instead of treating them seriously I presented them in 
lighter vein, seeking rather the laugh than the shudder. 
"The Water Ghost," and "Ghosts I Have Met," speak 
to me now of the inner conflict between two sorts of 
things, to either one of which chance alone could keep 
me from sucomibing. That the necessities of official 
position compelled me to take the more joyous course 
is a fact for which I am profoundly grateful, for, after 
all, we react mentally and spiritually from the things 
that we do, and I have been far happier personally from 
the choice which was really no choosing of my own. 

"The House-Boat on the Styx" was nothing more 
than the natural outcome of my love of treating spirits 
lightly. From treating purely fanciful spooks lightly 
it is an easy step to the treating of real spirits in the 
same fashion, and the field is limitless. I do not myself 
consider the "House-Boat" a masterpiece, but it is^ 
human, and perhaps for that reason it may be called 
good humor. I fancy it was the novelty of the 
underl)ang idea, and the extravagant juxtapositions 
of historical and other figures, that accounted for its 
popularity. Since it is now old enough to vote I shall 
let it speak for itself, and neither boast that I have 
written it, nor apologize for having done so. That 
it has pleased so many thousands of people in all parts 
of the world is a matter of gratification to me, and even 
if it were infinitely worse than it is I should still be 
glad that it was mine to write. 

Altogether I have written some sixty-odd books, 
several of them more popular with me than the "House- 
Boat," but since I seem to have shared the fate of the 



46 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

one-book man, I shall not refer to the others — ^not even 
to "CoflFee and Repartee" and "The Idiot," in which 
so many of my critics seem to find something in the 
nature of autobiography. Having at the request of 
the compiler of this volume interpreted myself up to 
the Stygian Climax, I feel that I have gone as far as 
the special occasion requires. I would like to say in 
conclusion, however, that in our own day the title of I 
humorist is not one to be sought, and will not be until 
it comes to have a more definite meaning than it has at 
present. The modern conception of humor is too vari- 
ous to lend any distinction to the word humorist. To 
some persons, a humorist is little higher than a buffooa 
To others, he is a practical joker whose alleged humor 
is based wholly upon another's pain. To still others, 
the word connotes a delicate fancy intermingled with 
pointed wit. The range of humor at this hour of 
writing runs from the vagaries of Charlie Chaplin 
up through the keen satiric wit of Bernard Shaw, to the 
exquisite fairy-like fancies of a James M. Barrie. If 
the things that Chaplin does are humor, then the things 
that Mark Twain, and Addison, and Charles Lamb 
have done must be something else, in view of all of 
which, his is indeed a strange choice who asks the world 
to consider him to be a humorist. May Heaven spare 
me that title, or, if I have won it, which I doubt, may 
it be my good fortune some day to emerge from the 
shackles of anything so unmitigatedly nondescript. 



CHAPTER IV 



ROBERT C. BENCHLEY 



A 



FTER keeping at Mr. Benchley for weeks, nay 
months, he finally wrote out the following 
authentic biography of himself: 



Outline of My Lifk R. C. Benchley. 
Bom Isle of Wight, September 15, 1807. 
Shipped as cabin boy on Florence L Marble 181 5. 
Arrested for bigamy and murder in Port Said, 

1817. 
Released 1820. Wrote "Tale of Two Cities.'* 
Married Princess Anastasie of Portugal, 1831. 
Children : Prince Rupprecht and several little girls. 
Wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin*' 1850. 
Editor "Godey's Ladies Book'* 1851-56. 
Began "Les Miserables" 1870 (finished by Victor 

Hugo). 
Died 1 87 1. Buried in Westminster Abbey. 

To add anything to this painstaking historical docu- 
ment is a crime. Yet it must be done. Mr. Benchley 
was originally born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He 
is a Harvard man. He came to New York some time 
or other and began his work on Vanity Fair. After 
this, he wrote book reviews for the New York Worlds 
and from thence went to Life as the dramatic critic. 

47 



48 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

He knew nothing about the drama, he declared, but 
his weekly observations are considered very important 
by a large circle of readers. Among the younger 
humorists of the day he ranks very high. His book 
"Of All Things !*' is a remarkable volume of humorous 
essays. Benchley's humorous touch is unerring, and 
back of what he writes is substance. From his book 
I have taken the liberty of making the following 
extract: 

The Social Life of the Newt 

It is not generally known that the newt, although one 
of the smallest of our North American animals, has 
an extremely happy home-life. It is just one of those 
facts which never get bruited about. 

I first became interested in the social phenomena of 
newt life early in the spring of 1913, shortly after I 
finished my researches in sexual differentiation among 
amoeba. Since that time I have practically lived among 
newts, jotting down observations, making lantern- 
slides, watching them in their work and in their play 
(and you may rest assured that the little rogues have 
their play — ^as who does not?) until, from much l)ring 
in a research posture on my stomach, over the en- 
closure in which they were confined, I found myself 
developing what I feared might be rudimentary creep- 
ers. And so, late this autumn, I stood erect and 
walked into my house, where I immediately set about 
the compilation of the notes I had made. 

So much for the non-technical introduction. The 
remainder of this article bids fair to be fairly scientific. 

In studying the more intimate phases of newt life, 
one is chiefly impressed with the methods by means 



ROBERT C. BENCHLEY 49 

of which the males force their attentions upon the fe- 
males, with matrimony as an object. For the newt is, 
after all, only a newt, and has his weaknesses just as 
any of the rest of us. And I, for one, would not have 
it different. There is little enough fun in the world 
as it is. 

The peculiar thing about a newt's courtship is its 
restraint. It is carried on, at all times, with a mini- 
mum distance of fifty paces (newt measure) between 
the male and the female. Some of the bolder males 
may now and then attempt to overstep the bounds of 
good sportsmanship and crowd in to forty-five paces, 
but such tactics are frowned upon by the Rules Com- 
mittee. To the eye of an uninitiated observer, the pair 
might be dancing a few of the more open figures of 
the minuet. 

The means employed by the males to draw the atten- 
tion and win the affection of those of the opposite sex 
(females) are varied and extremely strategic. Until 
the valuable researches by Strudlehoff in 1887 (in his 
" Entwickelungsmechanik*') no one had been able to 
ascertain just what it was that the male newt did to 
make the female see anything in him worth throwing 
herself away on. It had been observed that the most 
personally unattractive newt could advance to within 
fifty paces of a female of his acquaintance and, by 
some coup d'oeil, bring her to a point where she would, 
in no uncertain terms, indicate her willingness to go 
through with the marriage ceremony at an early date. 

It was Strudlehoff who discovered, after watching 
several thousand courting newts under a magnifying 
lens (questionable taste on his part, without doubt, but 
all is fair in pathological love) that the male, during 
the courting season (the season opens on the tenth of 
March and extends through the following February, 



so OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

leaving about ten days for general overhauling and 
redecorating) gives forth a strange, phosphorescent 
glow from the center of his highly colored dorsal crest, 
somewhat similar in effect to the flash of a diamond 
scarf-pin in a red necktie. This glow, according to 
StrudlehoflF, so fascinates the female with its air of 
elegance and indication of wealth, that she immediately 
falls a victim to its lure. 

But the little creature, true to her sex-instinct, does 
not at once give evidence that her morale has been 
shattered. She affects a coyness and lack of interest, 
hy hitching herself sideways along the bottom of the 
aquarium, with her head turned over her right shoulder 
away from the swain. A trained ear might even de- 
tect her whistling in an indifferent manner. 

The male, in the meantime, is flashing his gleamer 
frantically two blocks away and is performing aJl sorts 
of attractive feats, calculated to bring the lady newt 
to terms. I have seen a male, in the stress of his handi- 
cap courtship, stand on his fore-feet, gesticulating in 
amorous fashion with his hind feet in the air. Franz 
Ingehalt, in his ''Ueber Weltschmerz des Newt/' re- 
counts having observed a distinct and deliberate undu- 
lation of the body, beginning with the shoulders and 
ending at the filament of the tail, which might well 
have been the origin of what is known to-day in scien- 
tific circles as "the shimmy." The object seems to be 
the same, except that in the case of the newt, it is the 
male who is the active agent. 

In order to test the power of observation in the male 
during these maneuvers, I carefully removed the fe- 
male, for whose benefit he was undulating, and put in 
her place, in slow succession, another (but less charm- 
ing) female, a paper-weight of bronze shaped like a 
newt, and, finally, a common rubber eraser. From the 



ROBERT C. BENCHLEY 51 

distance at which the courtship was being carried on, 
the male (who was, it must be admitted, a bit near- 
sighted congenitally ) was unable to detect the change 
in personnel, and continued, even in the presence of 
the rubber eraser, to gyrate and undulate in a most 
conscientious manner, still under the impression that 
he was making a conquest. 

At last, worn out by his exertions, and disgusted at 
the meagerness of the reaction on the eraser, he gave a 
low cry of rage and despair and staggered to a near-by 
pan containing barley-water, from which he proceeded 
to drink himself into a gross stupor. 

Thus, little creature, did your romance end, and who 
shall say that its ending was one whit less tragic than 
that of Camille? Not I, for one. ... In fact, the 
two cases are not at all analogous. 

And now that we have seen how wonderfully Na- 
ture works in the fulfillment of her laws, even among 
her tiniest creatures, let us study for a minute a cross- 
section of the community-life of the newt. It is a life 
full of all kinds of exciting adventure, from weaving 
nests to crawling about in the sun and catching insect 
larvae and crustaceans. The newt's day is practically 
never done, largely because the insect larvae multiply 
three million times as fast as the newt can possibly 
catch and eat them. And it takes the closest kind of 
community team-work in the newt colony to get things 
anywhere near cleaned up by nightfall. 

It is early morning, and the workers are just ap- 
pearing, hurrying to the old log which is to be the 
scene of their labors. What a scampering! What a 
bustle! Ah, little scamperers! Ah, little bustlers! 
How lucky you are, and how wise! You work long 
hours, without pay, for the sheer love of working. An 
ideal existence. Til tell the scientific world. 



52 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Over here on the right of the log are the Master 
Draggers. Of all the newt workers, they are the most 
futile, which is high praise indeed. Come, let us look 
closer and see what it is that they are doing. 

The one in the lead is dragging a bit of gurry out 
from the water and up over the edge into the sunlight. 
Following him, in single file, come the rest of the 
Master Draggers. They are not dragging an3rthing, 
but are sort of helping the leader by crowding against 
him and eating little pieces out of the filament of his 
tail. 

And now they have reached the top. The leader, by 
dint of much leg-work, has succeeded in dragging his 
prize to the ridge of the log. 

The little workers, reaching the goal with their 
precious freight, are now giving it over to the Master 
Pushers, who have been waiting for them in the sun 
all this while. The Master Pushers' work is soon 
accomplished, for it consists simply in pushing the piece 
of gurry over the other side of the log until it falls with 
a splash into the water, where it is lost. 

This part of their day's task finished, the tiny toilers 
rest, clustered together in a group, waving their heads 
about from side to side, as who should say : "There — 
that's done!" And so it is done, my little Master 
Draggers and my little Master Pushers, and well done, 
too. Would that my own work were as clean-cut and 
as satisfying. 

And so it goes. Day in and day out, the busy army 
of newts go on making the world a better place in 
which to live. They have their little trials and trage- 
dies, it is true, but they also have their fun, as anyone 
can tell by looking at a log full of sleeping newts on a 
hot summer day. 

And, after all, what more has life to offer? 



CHAPTER V 

GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST* 
BY GELETT BURGESS 

IF you will clamber up almost any one of the many, 
many church steeples in Boston — from the New 
Old South to the Church-of-the-Holy-Beanblowers 
— ^you will find, near the top, a curious mark — b, mono- 
gram composed of the Phoenician letters F. G. B. 
But Gelett Burgess, in those kidloid days, was really 
no Steeple Jack. His marks were scrawled inside, 
not outside those steeples. 

And, as he had sometimes in the pursuit of this 
peculiar fad to break into those churches to climb up 
into the steeples, so he broke into Literature from the 
inside, and left his mark. 

Noticing, even at fifteen, that most of the "Notes 
and Queries" in the Boston Transcript were requests 
for lost doggerels, he induced a boy friend to write 
to the editor and ask for the author of a poem — one 
of G. B.'s own private effusions. And the next week, 

*The account of Gelett Burgess has been written by himself 
at the request of the author of this book. He requested, and 
indeed the condition of obtaining it was, that it should not be 
changed in any particular; and so it follows just as Mr. Burgess 
wrote it. 

53 



54 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

he himself sent in, and proudly he saw printed his 
answering letter: 

Editor of the Transcript: 
Dear Sir: 

The author of the poem entitled "The dismal day, 
&c/' is Frank Gelett Burgess, and the whole poem is 
as follows: 

The dismal day, with dreary pace, 

Hath dragged its tortuous length along; 

The gravestones black and funeral vase 
Cast horrid shadows long. 

Oh, let me die, and never think 

Upon the joys of long ago ! 
For cankering thoughts make all the world 

A wilderness of woe. 

With this merry literary achievement he was for 
some years content; he made no further attempts to 
create a demand for his work. G. B. a civil engineer 
would be. In the back of his arithmetic, an illustrated 
problem had shown him a clever surveyor measuring 
across a river without crossing it. This had fired his 
imagination. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he 
became, in four years, a Bachelor of Science, had, no 
doubt, although indirectly, a strong influence upon his 
imagination. It gave him precision of thought, if not 
direction. It made his ideas definite. It did not, 
however, encourage the pursuit of letters, except 
perhaps the Alphas Betas and Deltas which nearly 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 55 

conquered him in Stresses and Strains and the Theory 
of Elasticity. 

He did, though, interrupt his Calculus and Quar- 
ternions occasionally, to contribute an article or poem 
for the student magazine, The Tech; and when, later, 
he was camped with an engineering outfit of the 
Southern Pacific Railway in the seven-foot-high 
growth of mustard where now arise the houses of 
Pasadena's greatest and best, he wrote a story for 
the Boston Budget, 

Still, all the time, persistently, though secretly, G. B. 
was committing light verse, mainly celebrating the 
ladies of his acquaintance. To this hard training in 
versification is attributable what skill and style he. has 
attained. Several thick books of unpublished vers de 
societe and fancy still exist to prove his assiduity and 
his mastery of technique and condensed thought. 

Alas, the fates denied the young poet's desire to 
build tunnels and bridges in the fastnesses of the 
Andes. He was too good a draughtsman to be sent 
into the field; and three years of office work in San 
Francisco (usually with a poem or sketch concealed 
under his maps) sickened him of science. 

A call to the University of California as Instructor 
in Topographical Drawing soon gave him the opportu- 
nity and leisure to indulge his muse. But, ere three 
years of this unseemly dignity had passed, a mid- 
night escapade, though it endeared him to the students, 
brought an intimation from the President that his 
resignation from the Faculty of the U. C. would be 
accepted. 

It was this pulling down of the cast-iron statue of 



S6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the famous Dr. Coggswell — so long an aesthetic scandal 
in San Francisco — ^that launched G. B. into a literary 
career. With Bruce Porter, another of the iconoclasts, 
he started The Lark, This was to be known, during 
its two years* sprightly existence, as the most original 
magazine ever published in America. 

In its initial number one nonsense rh3rme achieved 
for G. B. a fame which he has made a lifelong attempt 
to surpass. This was 

I never saw a Purple Cow, 

I never Hope to See one; 
But I can Tell you. Anyhow, 

rd rather See than Be one ! 

The Lark was unique in that it contained neither 
satire, parody, nor comment or criticism of any kind 
upon contemporary writers. It eschewed both local 
color and timeliness. Every page, in fact, was a 
definite contribution of appealing originality. Non- 
sense, serious verse, essays, fiction, drawings, inven- 
tions — The Lark was versatile — all had the freshness 
and gayety of youth. Its creed was optimism and 
joie de vivre. And most of it was written by G. B. ; 
often the whole number, from cover design to jocose 
advertisements, was from his pen. 

As a nonsense writer, however, he was still best 
known and enjoyed; and these two poems came near 
to rivaling his P. Cow. 

The Window has four little Panes— 

But One have I. 
The Window Panes are in its Sash — 

I Wonder Why ! 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 57 

The Towel hangs upon the Wall — 
And Somehow, I don't Care at All. 
The Door is Open. I must Say 
I rather Fancy it That Way ! 

Amongst the many gallimaufries in The Lark was 
an essay consisting of six paragraphs each of which 
could be used in combination with any other, hap- 
hazard, making an infinite number of apparently logical 
permutations. If you don't believe it, try for yourself 
any arrangement of these "Interchangeable Philosoph- 
ical Paragraphs" : 

1. It may be doubted that any system of thought 
arranged upon the lines herewith proposed can be a 
success. The fact of its accomplishment alone, impor- 
tant as it must be, is no proof of method. 

2. For instance, the correct relation between any 
two facts is one that must be investigated along the 
lines of thought most perfectly correlated to those 
facts. 

3. And in spite of what might at first sight be called 
irrelevancy, there is this to be observed, no matter what 
bearing the above may have upon the subject in hand, 
that the relations of one part to another may or may 
not be true. 

4. And here must be noted the importance of the 
demand that such types of thought do exist. This is, 
no doubt, a quality of subjects, rather than of rela- 
tivity between modes of expression. 

5. So, too, are questions affecting the expression of 
coherent symbols of equal importance with the method 
by which these symbols are expressed. 

6. But at the same time there must be a certain 



58 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

divergence in form between the types of questions to 
be discussed. 

Equally erudite was a short, pointed story in the 
key of A-sharp, by G. B. which began — and continued 
quite as extravagantly — ^with this burst of verbiage: 
— ^all words guaranteed genuine : 

An auttmmal sun, hanging in abditative attitude 
behind the atramental abysses of the wood, peered 
through the apertures of the adustive foliage, casting 
ampliated, anfractuous penumbric anamorphoses of the 
arbuscles in the Park. In the arbor, beneath an acacia, 
sat the austere Anthea, analytical, yet attrehent. 

and the following attempt of a typewriting machine 
at automatic poetry is a patent satire upon all machine- 
made verse : 

Oh Phliis, "j??zVbx Aj%5 2q part, 

So soon — iQ'k"jyx,-, 2-morrow, 
Alas, qiQ)$ 'Vmlj- ; my poor heart ! 

Ah— $$,%, ws 4pdq7, Qkcd, sorrow. 

Fare^well, . . QJmdubz$ "-,never mind. 
Sweet Phylli$, "jzf%i ,-missing — 

Ah me,, v$%Aw''mjx . . js$. .have to find 
Another g$irlx $993% to do $gzk kissing I 

The "Burgess Nonsense Book," containing many of 
The Lark's best humorous features and other eccen- 
tricities coined by G. B.'s whimsical mind, put him in 
a class apart. There have been few volumes of sheer, 
premeditated absurdity — ^too few. For Wit and 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 59 

Humor are more common than is generally supposed. 
Parody and Burlesque, too, are easy enough. Satire 
we find in spots. But Nonsense is a ticklish medium 
to essay. It takes a clear head to walk that narrow 
steep pathway along the wall of Pomposity without 
falling into the abyss of Silliness. Could G. B. do it? 
Perhaps, of such unadulterated nonsense, this is his 
^em of purest ray serene : 

Abstrosophy 

If echoes from the fitful past 

Could rise to mental view. 
Would all their fancied radiance last. 
Or would some odors from the blast. 

Untouched by Time, accrue? 

Is present pain a future bliss. 

Or is it something worse? 
For instance, take a case like this: 
Is fancied kick a real kiss — 

Or rather the reverse ? 

Is plenitude of passion palled 

By poverty of scorn ? 
Does Fiction mend what Fact has mauled ? 
Has Death its wisest victims called 

When idiots are born? 

Upon moving to New York G. B. almost came 

•down to earth. But of course, not quite. His 

sophistication is evident in one of his lesser known 

books (half -suppressed by his half-hearted publisher), 

one of the million parodies of the immortal Fitzgerald. 



6o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

"The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne" was a skittish skit 
on contemporaneous literature, so-called. A few 
quatrains will show G. B/s satiric intent : 

Why, if an Author can fling Art aside 
And in a Book of Balderdash take Pride, 

Wer't not a Shame — ^wer't not a Shame for him 
A Conscientious Novel to have Tried ? 

And though you wring your Hands and wonder Why 
Such Slipshod Work the Publisher will buy, 

Don't grumble at the Editor, for he 
Must serve the Public, e'en as You and I. 

We are no other than a Passing Show 
Of clumsy Mountebanks that Come and Go 

To please the General Public; now, who gave 
To IT the right to Judge, Fd like to Know ! 

G. B., however, had more serious aspirations than to 
be a clown. A reputation for nonsense, even for humor 
and fancy, he knew to be dangerous. In New York, 
therefore, he began in the magazine fiction field. It 
was more dignified — ^people didn't, in private expect 
one to be funny — ^and one made more money. 

Still, a fatal facility with rh3rme, when combined 
with some talent as a grotesque illustrator and that 
cursed sense of humor to boot, was a seductive trio — 
almost irresistible. Luckily G. B. was able to steer 
these three Graces in a didactic direction, and escape 
motley for a while. The invention of a queer new 
race of beings, ill-behaved children — he called them 
Goops (it was a quaint word, once) — started him as 
a nursery Mentor. Book after book of Goops in- 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 6i 

culcating principles of infant etiquette in verse, and t^ 
illustrated by himself with eccentric drawings, have 
made him now even better known as a juvenile writer 
than as a nonsense poet. 

Not a youthful fault but has not been described 
and deprecated; and a sample from one of these 
Manual of Manners will show how he succeeded in 
teaching children manners without their suspecting it : 

The Goops, they lick their fingers. 

And the Goops, they lick their knives. 
They spill their broth on the table-cloth — 

Oh, they lead disgusting lives! 
The Goops, they talk while eating, 

And loud and fast they chew. 
So that is why Fm glad that I 

Am not a Goop — ^are you ? 

Hardly had G. B. been thus labeled, when lo, he 
escaped from the juvenile pigeonhole and appeared in 
a new role. Perhaps it was a year in London writing 
for The Sketch that changed him, although while "^ 
there he accomplished a whole series of ultra-modern 
fairy tales whose heroes and heroines were new to 
fiction — such as "The House who Walked in her 
Sleep," "The Locomobile in search of his Fortune/' 
"The Lazy Lamp Posts,'* and "The Very, Very Grand " 
Piano." 

At any rate, he returned to New York as a full- 
fledged satirist to set a new word in people's mouths 
from Maine to Florida. Bromide! Why, it even 
got into the dictionary. Are You a Bromide? he 
asked, in a most provocative social analysis that divided 



62 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the world into two classes — ^those who have original \ 

ideas, and those who think by syndicate. True, most 

readers understood and were amused only by his list 

of platitudes, such as "If I leave my umbrella it is 

sure to rain," and "the world is a very small place, 

after all," but the essay itself while couched in jocosity, 

is a searching presentation of the limitations of the 

"bromidic" mind. 

Encouraged by the notice this booklet received, G. B. 

now turned his mischievous attention to Women. He 

put their foibles under his merry mental microscope in 

two books which have aroused the wrath of feminists. 

"The Maxims of Methuselah," giving in striking mock- 

biblical diction and modem slang, the result of the 

venerable patriarch^s 969 years of experience with the 

woman of the Land of Nod, was followed by an even 

more spicily audacious set of "Maxims of Noah." 

Each had a sober and scholarly Introduction, into 

which he wove all the lore concerning the two old men 

embodied in the ancient legends of Hebraic literature 

— such as the Talmud, the Midrash, the Book of 

Yashar and of Enoch, etc. 

The two books of Maxims are guaranteed by the 

impertinent author to give young man a complete 

course in the art of Understanding and Managing 

Women. G. B.'s views on this parlous topic may be 

illustrated by a few Maxims : 

My son, many a damsel is a kitten with men, who is 
a cat with women. 

But when thou goest amongst women, let not thy 
left girl know what thy right girl doeth. 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 63 

As a leaky hot water bottle in time of need, so is a 
fond woman who telleth thy secrets ; her folly exceedeth 
her comfort. 

As one who seeketh to fold a newspaper in a high 
wind, so is he who argueth with an angry woman. 

As a cork that hath been pushed into a bottle, so is 
the mind of her who nurseth her first born; thou canst 
not attain unto it. 

Can one lick a frosty door knob and not lose skin? 
So he who kisseth a widow shall not easily escape. 

Stolen kisses are ^weet, and hands held in secret are 
pleasant ; but he knoweth not that when he hath gone, 
then will she tell all the details to her sisters without 
shame. 

Gum may be removed from the hair, and ink under 
the thumb nail will in time pass away; but she who 
talketh too loudly in the street car cannot be changed. 

Yea, as fascinating as a loose tooth is a secret to a 
young maiden ; for she knoweth not whether to spit it 
out, or to keep it safe ; yet she cannot forget it. 

A teasing woman is as a squeaking shoe, or as when 
one walketh upon spilt sugar ; it annoyeth me utterly. 

Testifying to G. B/s versatility, meanwhile, several 
novels, a book of poems, one of essays on The Romance 
of the Commonplace, and a book of detective stories, 
appeared in his endeavor to demonstrate his sobriety 
to the world. It was of little use. He was compelled 
to milk that Purple Cow for the rest of his life. 

Already the word Blurb (self-praise, to make a 
sound like a publisher), had been widely adopted to 
describe the advertised praise of books, tobaccos, break- 
fast foods and sundry. The success of this coinage, 
as well as the popularity of Bromide and Sulphite, led 



64 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

him to try his hand at other vivacious vocables and apt 
neologisms. He became, in fact, a lexicographer, and 
collected lOO Words You have Always Needed into a 
volume he unblushingly denominated "Burgess Un- 
abridged." Each new word is not only defined, but 
described and illustrated elaborately in both prose and 
verse. They are not, on the whole, pretty words, but 
they bite right into every-day life. Each of them, to 
coin a phrase, fills a long- felt want. 

How, for instance, would you describe the appear- 
ance of one who is not quite the thoroughbred — an East 
Orangean, for instance, or a lady from Meriden ? He 
is apt to wear one of those mushroom-pleated shirts 
with a swallow-tail, and probably he carries a cane 
but no gloves. She wears white gloves, but badly 
soiled ; her shoes are run over at the heels. The answer, 
to G. B. is easy. We have described a Bripkin. 

In this lively mixture of glossolalia and satire, G. B. 
is at his comic best and most original. A few 
abbreviated citations from "Burgess Unabridged" will 
convince one of the paucity of the English language : 

ALIBOSH — ^A glaringly obvious falsehood or ex- 
aggeration. 

COWCAT — An unimportant guest, an insignificant 
personality. 

DRILLIG — A tiresome lingerer, a buttonholer. 

EDICLE — One who is educated beyond his intellect 

GEFOOJET — An unnecessary thing, a wedding 
present, curios. 

GUBBLE — Society chatter, the hum of foolish con- 
versation. 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 65 

KIPE — ^To inspect appraisingly, as women look at 
each other. 

MEEM — An artificial half-light beloved by women 
of a certain age, as of three red candles. 

SPUZZ — Mental force, aggressive personality, 
stamina. 

VARM — ^The quintessence of sex, a female atmos- 
phere, as of a man entirely surrounded by women. 

VORIANDER — ^A woman who pursues men, espe- 
cially when she is unattractive. A female who de- 
mands attentions. 

WOG — Food on the face, egg in the whiskers, milk 
on the lips, or other imconscious adornment of the 
person. 

ZOBZIB — ^An amiable blunderer, one displa3ring 
misguided zeal. 

And an idea of how amenable these terms are to 
poetry and give an intriguing flavor, G. B. gives many 
poems, of which the following is the most abstruse : 

When vorianders seek to huzzlecoo. 

When jurpid splooch or vilpous drillig bores. 
When cowcats kipe, or moobles wog, or you 

Machizzled are by yowfs or xenogores. 
Remember Burgess Unabridged, and think 

How quisty is his culpid yod and yab; 
No fidgeltick, with goigsome iobink, 

No varmic orobaldity, his gab! 

In the realm of more conventional comedy verse 
also, G. B. is well known. Here as elsewhere he is 
tssentially a satirist of manners, and as usual, ruth- 
lessly at the expense of women's frailty. His best 
loiown poem in this line has caused much discussion 



66 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

amongst the literati, as to the identification of his hero. 
There have been many claimants to the honor. But 
one stanza will show the animus. 

Dighton is engaged ! Think of it and tremble — 
Two and twenty maidens in the city must dissemble I 
Two and twenty maidens in a panic must repeat, 
"Dighton is a gentleman — ^will Dighton be discreet?" 
All the merry maidens who have known him at his best, 
Wonder what the girl is like, and if he has confessed. 

Dighton, the philanderer ! Will he prove a slanderer ? 
A man gets confidential ere the hone3mioon is sped. 

Dighton was a rover then; Dighton lived in clover 
then ; 
Dighton is a gentleman — ^but Dighton is to wed ! 

A sample from another poem (written on a bet, while 
making a call) will show still more plainly his tendency 
to make fun of the unfair sex. 

Leave the lady, Willy, let the racket rip ; 
She is going to fool you — you have lo^t your g^p. 
Your brain is in a muddle, and your heart is in a whirl ; 
Come along with me, Willy — never mind the girl ! 

Come and have a man-talk, 

Come with those who can talk, 
Light your pipe and listen, and the boys will pull you 
through 

Love is only chatter, 

Friends are all that matter — 
Come and have a man-talk — ^that's the cure for you! 

But even G. B.'s fiction has always (though some- 
times concealed slightly) the sarcastic note. His 
comedy is oftener a comedy of manners than of situa- 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 67 

tion. An abandoned example of this is his New York 
Arabian Nights Entertainment called "Find the 
Woman." He does, it is true, indulge in such farce as 
a kidnaped hero coming out of his chloroform to find 
himself without trousers in a pigeon loft, to be sub- 
sequently entertained by a Club of Liars — ^but G. B. 
is more apt to laugh at the general tendency than the 
specific instance. Like O. Henry, he has been re- 
membered more for ingenious construction and knowl- 
edge of human nature, than by the creation of any 
popular character. The most original — or perhaps the 
maddest of his dramatis-personae in this novel is "the 
President of an Anti-Profanity League," one Dr. Hop- 
bottom; and this is the way he relieves his irate 
emotion : 

See here, you slack-salted, transubstantiated inter- 
digital germarium, you rantipole sacrosciatic rock- 
barnacle, you — if you give me any more of your 
caprantipolene paragastular megalopteric jacitation, 
rU make a lamel-libranchiate gymnomixine lepidop- 
teroid out of you ! 

Little need be said of G. B.'s more serious literary 
work — novels, plays, poems and essays. But one must 
take its existence into consideration in appraising his 
work as a humorist. For humor is a natural reflex 
from serious and earnest impulses. The first arboreal 
anthropoid ape who, safe at the top of his tree, cackled 
in primitive laughter at the sight of his fellow at the 
bottom being attacked by a deadly enemy, felt some- 
thing of what we call humor. And it was because that 
ancestor of ours knew by experience the seriousness 



68 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

of the other's plight that he made primordial fim of 
him. It might be said, indeed, that not only are humor- 
ists the most sapient commentators upon life, but that 
no one who cannot be earnest can be really funny. 

And especially is this true of that form of applied 
humor called satire, which is never successful unless 
the subject ridiculed is well understood, if not indeed 
beloved. G. B. is always like one who chaffs his 
brother or his best friend — or, so far as that goes, 
himself. Nowhere is this better shown than in his 
outrageous "Lady Mechante,'' which bears the pregnant 
sub-title, "Life as it Should Be." This novel, written, 
at odd moments for the mere delight of unrestraint, 
for his own wild pleasure, consists of four books. 
"The Cad and the Countess" is a satire on society 
boredom ; "The Walking Peanut," a skit on hypnotism; 
"The Cult of Mars," a travesty on new occult religions; 
and "The Cave Man" an explosive burlesque on modem 
art. And in the latter it is G. B.'s own pet theories 
and beliefs that are most merrily attacked — his favorite 
schools of music, painting, architecture and literature. 

Here, for instance is the Cave Man's first poem — 
something sacred and holy, he avers — a part of the 
divine mystery of his being. Like a love letter it is 
the sort of thing that isn't often exposed to public 
view. But Haulick Smagg thus displays his hidden 
feelings : 

My shirt is sticky. It clings to my back. 

Gawd, my gawd, but Fd like to cry! 
I got up at night and stepped on a tack-^ 

Gawd, but I want to die 1 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 69 

I got my hair all covered with glue — 
I wiped my face on a towel new — 

Gawd, my gawd, but Fd like to cry I 
I seen a guy with a pale blue scarf — 
I heerd a gal with a horrid larff — 

Gawd, but I want to die ! 



Almost as extreme in its abandon is G. B.'s string of 
anguished tales entitled "Ain't Angie Awful!" They 
are vulgar, and yet charming. They are silly, yet 
comic. Here his style is almost legerdemain. He is 
atrocious. You crawl all over — ^but you read on. 
Satire, though — satire again. He hits everjrthing 
within reach of city life. . . . An introduction : 

In the good old days when girls wore ears, and 
lacquered their faces in privacy, Angela Bish held the 
proud position of 23rd assistant gum-chewer in a six- 
cent store. ... 

Angela was only sixteen. But what does that mat- 
ter, when one is young ! . . . 

For a young girl, life in New York is so hard-boiled 
as to be practically indigestible. There were times when 
Angie didn't know where her next kiss would come 
from. 

Ill as she could have afforded the luxury, she would 
have given nine dollars any day for a husband, alive 
or dead. If wealthy, she would have preferred him 
dead. But all the matrimonial agencies had given her 
up as too wonderfully willing. Men, they said kindly, 
liked to pursue an elusive woman, like a cake of wet 
soap in a bath tub— even men did who hated 
baths. . . . 



70 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

G. B.'s ever-youthful play instinct, in these two books 
carried to its absurdest limits, has always had a way 
of breaking out in the most unexpected and joyful 
directions. He has spent a fortnight constructing a 
completely equipped miniature farmhouse, with mica 
windows, and green velvet lawns — only to set it afire 
for the amusement of a dinner party. He has built 
dozens of Nonsense Machines — ^most elaborate as- 
semblies of mechanisms, whose sole object was to be 
busy in the most complicated possible way without 
doing anything useful whatever. With T. R.'s he 
once set out on a trip abroad to buy a foreign title — 
and ended by digging up first century B.C. Roman 
tombs in Provence. He published in San Francisco, 
with another madcap, Porter Gamett, a magazine of 
rankest nonsense, Le Petit Journal des RefusSes, and 
printed every copy on a different pattern of wall paper. 
And he exhibited, in an exclusive gallery on Fifth 
Avenue, some thirty water colors ambitiously hight 
"Experiments in Symbolistic Psychology." With Will 
Irwin, too, he collaborated not only on two books, but 
also in the management of the San Francisco & Arcady 
Railroad, an 87-foot line laid all over the floor of 
Suicide Hall, the apartment they shared on East 
Twenty-third Street. 

Now do not these enthusiastic avocations cast a 
brilliant sidelight on G. B. as a writer ? It will be seen 
in this psychoanalysis that his mind is essentially 
scientific, rather than dramatic. His permutative 
System of Philosophy, his emplo3mient of every known 
French form of verse in the Lark, his sarcastic com- 
ments on Art, in "The Cave Man," even the mechanical 



GELETT BURGESS AS A HUMORIST 71 

accurate qtiality of his drawings in "The Lively City 
o' Ligg" — all exhibit the same ironic, accuracy-loving, 
but law-breaking mind. To overcome technical dif- 
ficulties, and at the same time exploit a really satiric 
idea, is his delight. 

In "Dinarzade's Three Weeks," for example, which 
he wrote for the Century, G. B. proved that brevity 
is the soul of wit, by having the sister of Scheherezade 
outdo that lady by telling twenty-one stories, each of 
only ten words ! Here are some of them : 

Yawning bride's false teeth fall out before responses 
at wedding. 

Old maid forgets to remove cotton from ears before 
proposal. 

Aged lady, ambitious to become Steeple Jack, prac- 
tices village church. 

Escaping murderess detected through characteristic 
drinking milk through green veil. 

Animal lover spends month in stable searching for 
pet fly. 

Mouse on platform disturbs New Thought lecturer 
on "Banish Fear !" 

Fighting in dark, man cuts own throat, thinking it 
enemy's. 

Spinster dreams promenading Broadway undressed, 
wakes to find it true. 

It will be seen by this time that G. B. loves tours-de^ 
force. He loves machinery, and the intricacies of tech- 
nique. He loves the extravagant, the outrageous. But 
lie uses his gift always to demonstrate the absurdities 
Df life. He creates his characters only to destroy them. 
He formulates complex theories and blows them up 



72 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

with blasts of laughter. He is amused at everything, 
respects nothing. It is all he can do to be merely de- 
corous. Surely satire, to such a nature should be as 
easy as sneezing. 

In one of his water colors, S3mibolizing Fancy, G. B. 
showed a Liverbone (another of his whimsical crea- 
tions) who has leaped from the roof of a castle, and is 
seated, horseback, atop the moon. That bizarre, out- 
landish, care-free creature might also represent G. B.'s 
own mind. Say, Gertie, wouldn't it be awful to be like 
that? 



V 



CHAPTER VI 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 



r was a great many years ago that Ellis Parker 
Butler came into my office one day from Kansas 
City. It must have been a quarter of a century 
He was a pleasant-looking young man at the 
r. he is still pleasant-looking, in spite of all the 
lorous things he has written since : but doubtless he 
iser. For one thing he has lived in Flushing, New 
k, and continuous life in a place like Flushing, 
ch enables a man to escape from New York with 
it rapidity, is more or less of a cultural process. 
ny time I have known several creative workers who 
1 in Flushing, and they appeared to be no worse 
it. 

Ir. Butler, however, did not go to Flushing by my 
>mmendation. He went somewhere else. He told 
that he had come on to New York to make his 
une, that he wanted to become a writer, and that 
ixpected to become a married man in due time, the 
ner the better. My advice to him was to get on a 
adway car, go north until he saw green, and then 
aire at the nearest drug store for a suitable board- 

73 




74 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ing house. But I had forgotten about Central Park, 
so Butler, seeing green, got off there and wandered 
around for a while among the swans and policemen, 
until, having by this time lost all confidence in my in- 
telligence, he struck north for himself, got his bearings, 
became an editor, wrote *Tigs Is Pigs," acquired twins, 
lived in Paris, and became famous. 

Butler went to Paris after he wrote "Pigs Is Pigs." 
He thought a residence in Paris, as a supplement to 
Kansas City and Flushing, would enlarge his foimt 
of inspiration. Alas ! he told me he was not able to 
write a thing during his stay there, and was glad to get 
back to his native land. He has given various ex- 
planations of how he wrote "Pigs Is Pigs," but perhaps 
the best one is that his grandfather was a pork-packer. 
He writes : 

I brushed through the first year of high school at 
Muscatine well enough but just after I dipped into the 
second year I quit to go to work, because my father 
had hard sledding as a low-paid bookkeeper with eight 
children. We were a mighty poorly financed family. 
My grandfather, Sage O. Butler, had been a pork- 
packer, Mobile, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Muscatine — fol- 
lowing the hogs — and the big slump in provisions just 
after the Civil War caught him overloaded and ex- 
tended, and he failed. 

For a number of years, as a boy, I lived with my 
grandmother and aunt at Muscatine. My. aunt was a 
spinster and one of the most genuinely cultured women 
I have known — a lover of good literature and good 
music. Chopin and Beethoven were her favorites, and 
the "Lake Poets," and Charles Lamb and Matthew 
Arnold, and the finer old Americans — Lowell, Long- 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 75 

fellow and Emerson. She felt that good literature was 
something almost as holy as religion, and she made me 
feel that a great poet or a great writer of prose was 
not second to any hero. 

It was this delicate and cultured aunt who taught me 
to read and to know my numbers. I learned to read 
with Sir Walter Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather" as a 
primer, and Shakespeare's plays as a "First Reader," 
and the printed word gained then has always held 
for me color and mystery and "alarums" and glittering 
panoplies and clash of arms. I remember lying on my 
belly on the dull red parlor carpet reading "Hamlet" 
while my aunt practiced a Chopin nocturne — ^and 
Chopin still means good music to me, and Shakespeare 
means good, healthy, vigorous English. 

It was inevitable that I should write poetry first. I 
remember a serious parody of "Blow, Bugles, Blow" 
that I wrote on the theme of a cyclone that hit Musca- 
tine. It was published in a local paper about the time 
I began losing my milk teeth, and I wrote many more 
"poems." 

Recently I met Dean Jewell of the University of 
Arkansas and he told me something of the psychology 
of humorists. I had always said I became a humorist 
because my father was a great lover of humor. I re- 
member I gave him, once or twice, the Christmas num- 
bers of the humorous weeklies as my Christmas gift, 
and he knew and liked Peck's Sun, the Burlington 
Hawkeye, the Toledo Blade and the other weekly humor 
papers of a type now dead, ending with Texas Sif tings. 
I had always imagined that this close association with 
humor publications and my father's great admiration 
for Bill Nye, Bob Burdette and Mark Twain was the 
influence that turned me to humor, but Dean Jewell 
says this is not so. He says the psychology of the 



76 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

humorist is that he is timid and thin-skinned; he has 
had a love of writing put into him and has written 
something serious and some one he loves or admires 
has laughed at it, and in protection of his egotistic and 
quivering sensibilities he turns to humor as to some- 
thing that will be laughed at without causing him pain. 
Or words to that effect. 

This seems true in my own case, and is no doubt true 
in most cases. Dickens, the gutter-snipe, must have 
feared the criticism of the snobby educated, and he 
turned to the laugh. Most of our own famous humor- 
ists come from small towns where the writer of serious 
verse or prose is considered a poor freak. 

I know that even my dear aunt's gentle and kindly 
criticisms of my raw, youthful poems often sent me 
shamedly to tears of hurt self-esteem, but I do not re- 
call that I tried to write humor while I lived with her 
first. She did not consider humor worthy, unless it 
was the refined humor of Lamb or dear Oliver Wendell 
Holmes, and a boy in short pants can't do that sort. 
If he can he ought to be shot as a little prig. 

It was when I went home to my parents that I wrote 
my first great laughing success, a poem about our 
colored servant's hair "switch" which blew out of her 
bedroom window and became tangled in the top of a 
blossoming cherry tree. The family liked that poem, 
and I had to make several copies of it. 

When I started to school, well up in the classes be- 
cause of the home tutoring I had had, I began a career 
as a humorist that gave me great pleasure, although it 
was not widespread. There was a custom of giving, as 
a punishment for slight infractions of the school disci- 
pline, the task of writing an "essay" of five hundred 
or a thousand words. I loved this and I was disgust- 
ingly proud to stand before the school and read an essay 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 77 

on "Trees" or "Prohibition" that made the teacher 
and the scholars giggle and even laugh aloud. 

I think it was inevitable that I should be a writer of 
some sort because my aunt had given me such an ad- 
miration of literature. There was a time, when I was 
six years old, when I longed to become a blacksmith, 
because, I think, I loved the odor of hot iron against a 
horse's hoofs, as I do still, and somewhat later I wanted 
to become a doctor, but this was because that profession 
seemed to make a college education necessary, and what 
I wanted was the college education. I know I would ' 
have made a disgusting doctor. I would have been very 
popular and would have become wealthy while the 
graveyards filled with my patients. I would have had 
a most profitable bedside manner but I would have 
given, too often, arsenic for quinine. In my heart, I 
think, I never believed I would be anything but a writer. 
To write and have what I wrote printed always seemed 
the noblest success I could obtain, because my heroes 
were the writers of books, and not preachers or sol- 
diers or statesmen or millionaires or social successes. 
I would rather be George Ade than Rockefeller, and 
Napoleon has never seemed to me worth one of Bun- 
ner's short stories. I would rather see Booth Tarking- 
ton from across a wide street than spend a month with 
President Harding, as a guest of honor. My first view 
of the old Century building on Union Square thrilled 
me ten thousand times asi strongly as my first view of 
Niagara Falls. 

I spent ten or eleven years, after leaving high school,, 
in "jobs" in a spice mill, an oatmeal mill, a china store 
and a wholesale grocery, doing clerical work, being a 
floor salesman, selling groceries and one thing and an- 
other, but my real life was after hours when I could 
take a pen and get at my writing. I sold quite a few 




4 



78 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

serious poems, but Hood's "Rhymester," which I hap- 
pened to hear of as a textbook, put me in love with 
vers de societe and the exact forms of verse tinged 
with wit, and I did a lot of that and sold it to Life, 
Puck, Judge and Truth. It was inevitable that in sell- 
ing to these I should see a further market for my 
"stuff'' in the form of prose-humor — ^paragraphs and 
longer skits, and I found the market a good one and 
managed to sell the Century Magazine some things — a 
glory indeed. I worked until twelve or one each night, 
after my regular work, and presently I was earning 
more by what I wrote than by my "job" in the whole- 
sale grocery, and when I had an opportunity I visited 
New York and asked R. U. Johnson of the Century, 
Tom Masson of Life, and the editor of Truth whether 
it would be wise to come to New York and be the thing 
I wanted most to be, a literary man. They all advised 
me to come to New York and I did, and I have been 
grateful to all three for the advice. 

It seems to me inevitable that a man depending on 
his pen for his income and not wishing his family to 
dwell in poverty must write much that he would not 
write had he an income otherwise available, but I am 
fairly well satisfied with what I have done thus far, 
and it is difficult to decide what I like best of the things 
I have written. "Pigs Is Pigs," with its instant success 
and continued popularity, is probably the "best" thing 
I have done or it would not have attracted such wide 
and continued attention. It is not a "work" however, 
and an author is apt to be proudest of the thing he has 
done more intentionally. I love "Pigs Is Pigs" and 
can laugh at its humor myself, even after having read 
it a thousand and one times, but it was an accident and 
not the result of a studied effort. We are prouder of 
the things we plan carefully and theiv labor over. I 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 79 

think "The Jack Knife Man" is the best thing I have - 
done, judged in this way, but probably *Tigs Is Pigs," 
"Mrs. Dugan's Discovery," "Billy Brad and the Big, 
Big Lie" and other things that were merely dashed off 
without premeditation are the best test of whether I 
am a humorist or not. Being tmstudied, they show 
I have humor in me that will come out if I let it. 
Things like my "Goat Feathers," "Swatty" and "In 
Pawn" are greater sources of pride to me because I set 
myself a task and accomplished it fairly well in each 
case. 

I have had twenty books published, but some of the 
things I like best have not been put in book form yet, 
mainly because they are short and disconnected and 
because I have not bothered to gather them together 
and urge their publication. 

Without meaning to be egotistic I think the humorist 
does more good in the world than any other writer with 
the exception of the true poet and the vital essayist. -// 
A great poet is the world's greatest treasure, and st^ry 
great essayist is a true prose poet, but the humorist, 
however cheap and trashy, does something important 
that no other writer does — he gives the reader a laugh. 

What Butler says in this charming letter about the 
psychology of humorists stirs me profoundly. It ex- 
plains a great deal about humorists that I never before 
understood and confirms my own experience with these 
denatured human beings. 

Indeed, it requires a great stock of brains to over- 
come being a humorist, and one's sense of humor needs 
to be kept in constant retirement. In this country 
Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the one universal genius 
America can boast of, made his sense of humor serve 



fr 



80 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

him in all of his capacities, and I fancy that Dean 
Jewell's remark would scarcely apply to him. But it 
is largely true of our present-day humorists. 

As for a sense of humor, how many people do you 
Icnow who have one ? Scarcely anybody, you say 
promptly. Are you sure you have one yourself? Oh, 
yes, of course. You wouldn't deny that. If anyone 
should accuse you of not having a sense of humor, 
would you laugh at him ? You would be secretly sore. 
This charge might rankle in your mind for days. What 
is a sense of humor anyway? Are you clear in your 
mind about it? 

There is nothing that the average man is more 
sensitive about than this same sense of humor. 
You have it — only it is quite possible that you 
have never learned how to use it. How do you know 
that you haven't been secretly and subconsciously afraid 
to use it ? Maybe in a rash moment you have tried it 
on someone and the result has been so disastrous that 
it cured you. The practical joker is not in good stand- 
ing. If you turn the laugh on the other man the im- 
mediate result may be highly effective, but you have 
made an enemy. And we learn by hard experience 
that we cannot afford to make too many superfluous 
enemies. 

And yet a sense of humor, if it is rightly applied, is 
one of the most powerful assets in the world. It not 
only keeps a man sweet and clean, but so far as one's 
opportunities are concerned, it acts upon them like a 
magnifying glass — ^brings them out, makes them larger 
and clearer. It all depends on how you get it and how 
you use it. An instance of the danger in its applica- 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 8i 

tion is shown in the reply made by one of the officers 
of the Illinois Central Railroad to Abraham Lincoln 
when he was practicing law. He had won an impor- 
tant case for this railroad. He presented a bill for 
$2,000. 

"Why," said the officer, "this is as much as a first- 
class lawyer would have charged." 

"Lincoln," writes Miss Tarbell, "withdrew the bill, 
left the office and, at the first opportunity, submitted 
the matter to his friends. Five thousand dollars, they 
all agreed, was a moderate fee . . . Lincoln then 
sued the railroad for that amount and won his case." 

In the fifth volume of the life of Benjamin Disraeli 
occurs a letter to Lady Bradford, of whom the fore- 
most man of his time — seventy years old and prime 
minister — was violently enamored. Owing to his 
unconcealed ardor and Lady Bradford's divergent point 
of view, a slight estrangement had risen between them. 

"Unfortunately for me," he goes on to say, "my 
imagination did not desert me with my youth. I have 
always felt this a great misfortune. It would have 
involved me in calamities, had not nature bestowed on 
me in a large degree another quality — the sense of the 
ridiculous . . . And I cannot resist certainly the 
conviction that much of my conduct to you, during this 
year, has been absurd." 

This is not, of course, to be taken as a confession, 
coming, as it did, from one of the most remarkable 
men of his age — if not of all ages, but rather as a naive 
explanation. As I have said, it is quite usual for 
most men to claim that they have a sense of the ri- 
diculous — ^more commonly termed a sense of humor^ 



82 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

and it is usual for them to believe this in all sincerity. 
But the rest of us are inclined to doubt it. We smile 
to ourselves urbanely and say "Poor fellow, he thinks 
he has it, but of course he hasn't; otherwise he would 
not take himself so seriously." 

But the rest of us are wrong. Practically every- 
body has a sense of humor, however much this fact 
may be disputed. But if we exercised it right and left, 
where would we land? Both Benjamin Disraeli and 
Abraham Lincoln were exceptional men. Like Frank- 
lin, they were so big in other respects that they could 
display a sense of humor without disaster. Lincoln 
read Artemus Ward to his cabinet at a critical moment 
in f the world's history. If a smaller man had done 
fll^s, he might not have survived it. Satire and in- 
/vective are one thing. Humor is another. Lincoln's 
.i perspective was so large that he could afford to be 
reckless about his humor. Then again— except where 
he needed to bring home a lesson — ^his humor was 
kindly ; it usually served to illustrate some point he was 
making. 

Mark Twain, as I have stated elsewhere, published 
his "Joan of Arc'' anonymously because, his chief 
reputation being as a humorist, he believed that the 
public would not take his serious work seriously. He 
was right. 

S. S. Cox ("Sunset'* Cox) declared that his display 
of humorous proclivities undoubtedly hurt his legis- 
lative career. A public man always has to guard 
against getting a reputation for being a humorist. 

It has been said and more than once, that Theodore 
Roosevelt had no sense of humor. It has been said, 



ELLIS 'PARKER BUTLER 83 

however, only by a few critical people to whom humor 
in any man would not be considered a damage — on the 
contrary. These people were wrong. Theodore 
Roosevelt did not have the same kind of sense of humor 
that Lincoln had. It was not so unrestrained, so in- 
evitable, as one might say. But, of course, he had it. 
It was an essential part of his large background. An 
evidence of this keen appreciation of humor is shown 
in his account of an interview he had with John L. 
Sullivan. Sullivan visited him once at the White 
House, to enlist his help about a certain nephew who 
hadn't turned out as Sullivan hoped. 

"That boy/* he explained to Mr. Roosevelt, "I just 
cannot understand. He was my sister's favorite son, 
and I always took a special interest in him myself. I 
did my best to bring him up in the way he ought to go. 
But there was nothing to be done with him. His tastes 
were naturally low. He took to music." 

The real reason why so few people develop and dis- 
play their sense of humor is not because it isn't there, 
but because it isn't there in proportion to the rest of 
their qualities, and they think they cannot afford to 
develop it. They are afraid of it. It's so powerful a 
thing that it goes off in their hands and causes trouble. 
They don't like to fool with it. It is a thing to be kept 
under lock and key, in a secret receptacle, like Romance. 

I knew a hard-headed bank president who once a 
year regularly read "Little Women" and laughed and 
cried to himself in his library over it. But the news 
of this delightful event in his life was not chronicled 
on his office bulletin board. 

A sense of humor is not only dangerous, but use- 



84 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

less in itself unless it is mixed with the man in the right 
proportions. Especially is this true of men with repu- 
tations for solidarity. By itself, it inspires no sort 
of confidence. You are not likely to trust another man 
with your money, your vote or your thoughts if, upon 
first meeting him, he laughs in your face, or "wheezes" 
you. In most people it is largely a case of defensive 
suppression. 

It is my experience that judges and clergjmien both 
have a sense of humor better developed than in other 
professions. But they are careful not to display too 
much of it outwardly. If they did, it might hurt them. 
Most men in settled positions of dignity and stability 
use it sparingly in public. That is one reason why a 
great man is not always understood and appreciated 
in his own home town. People see him with his mask 
off, laughing and joking and doing conmionplace things 
in a human way. The career of many a yoimg man 
has been set back or badly damaged because, at the out- 
set, he did not know how to control his sense of humor. 
One of the greatest powers in the world, it must be 
handled correctly. Remember the story of the western 
cowboy, who had been delegated to break the news to 
the widow of a man that they had just hanged for 
stealing a horse, only to discover afterwards that he 
was innocent. He called and said : "Ma'am, we strung 
up your husband by mistake, and he's dead. But you 
certainly have got the laugh on us." 

Where men are struggling for a living, they shut 
off any development of a sense of humor, important 
as it may be to the more cultivated, because they know 
intuitively that to be serious is to convey the idea of 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 85 

reliability. Occasionally some one among them has 
it spontaneously and irresistibly. He is tolerated by 
his fellows for his "good" qualities, that are suffi- 
ciently in evidence. They say of him, "He is a good 
workman, but queer." They do not quite understand 
him, although they may enjoy his company. 

All this being so, why do I say that a sense of humor 
is such a big asset? Let us look at the matter for a 
moment in a large way. Lincoln StefFens, who as a 
correspondent and keen observer of social and indus- 
trial conditions in many parts of the world, whose 
books "The Shame of the Cities" and "The Struggle 
for Self-Government" are a part of our literary and 
social history, and who has frequently been called upon 
to act as peacemaker between capital and labor, once 
told me that if humor were applied to world conditions, 
war would stop. "Apart from its tragedy," said Mr. 
Steffens, "war is ridiculous — ^so utterly nonsensical 
that if men as a whole could be made to see it in this 
light, they would be ashamed to indulge in it." 

Most of us lose our perspective at critical moments. 
We take ourselves too seriously. If you doubt this, 
look back upon some scene in your own past that, at 
the moment, seemed utterly hopeless and tragic. Now 
that it is all over and you can look at it calmly and 
impersonally, does it not strike you that your attitude 
was ridiculous? If your sense of humor could have 
come into play at this moment, the whole situation 
might have been relieved, and how much you might 
have been saved! This is what Disraeli meant when 
he wrote of himself. His love for Lady Bradford 
had made him take himself too seriously. But his 



86 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

sense of the ridiculous kept him from going too far. 
Benjamin Franklin's sense of humor, which permeated 
his whole life, was mingled in right proportions to 
the rest of him, and saved him from much that other- 
wise would have led him astray. It gave him the power 
of holding two opposite things in his mind at once — 
the power of contrast — which is always evidence of a 
developed sense of humor. Thus, before the Consti- 
tution was adopted and its fate was suspended by a 
hair, he was able to write that while he did not agree 
with all of it, he would sign it because, taken as a 
whole, it was best. 

The passions that sweep men off their feet tempo- 
rarily and lead to great tragedies might easily be pre- 
vented if humor could be brought in to clear the air. 
Dueling, which was once so common, has gone out 
because the ridiculousness of it is so apparent. Duel- 
ing is war on a small scale. Lincoln's example, in his 
famous duel with James Shields, had a large influence 
in making the duel ridiculous. Challenged by Shields, 
he insisted on having as weapons "broadswords of the 
largest size, precisely equal" and that between the prin- 
cipals there should be **a plank ten feet long, and from 
nine to twelve inches broad, to be firmly fixed on edge." 
A spectator who was present at this famous duel — 
which was adjusted without bloodshed, owing, no 
doubt, to the humorous twist that Lincoln had given 
to the affair, related the following accotmt : 

His face was grave and serious. I never knew him 
to go so long before without making a joke. But 
presently he reached over and picked up one of the 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 87 

swords, which he drew from its scabbard. Then he 
felt along the edge of the weapon with his thumb, as a 
barber feels of the edge of his razor, raised himself to 
his full height, stretched out his long arms and clipped 
off a twig from above his head with the sword. There 
wasn't another man of us who could have reached 
anywhere near that twig, and the absurdity of that long 
reaching fellow fighting with cavalry sabers with 
Shields, who could walk under his arm, came pretty 
near making me howl with laughter. 

It would easily be possible for me to cite numerous 
examples taken from history and the private lives of 
illustrious men, to show not only the wonderful and 
direct, but the cumulative power of a sense of humor, 
when brought to bear at the right time. But I must 
pass on to its practical application to our own lives, 
as we live them day by day, merely expressing the hope 
that as individuals come to understand and realize this 
power, it may, in the course of time, spread to whole 
races who, with a national consciousness alive to the 
absurdity of their actions, will pause on the threshold 
of one more world tragedy. 

A large proportion of our divorces might easily be li 
prevented if humor were used as a sanitary measure.^^^ 
Women are apt to be more intense than men. They?' 
express themselves with greater freedom, and often 
say things on the spur of the moment that they do not 
really mean. In these moments they may, indeed, be 
reaching out for some gestures of affection. And when 
husbands, because of a lack of humor, allow themselves 
to be drawn into the same mood instead of passing 
over the occasion lightly, then tragedy is likely to result. 



88 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Women are entitled to their moods, and at any rate, 
to treat them too seriously and logically is only to 
increase the tension. Where a situation in so many 
cases is artificial, it can easily be neutralized by a little 
touch of humor. We can afford to be over-serious 
" only about little things : as a rule, big things can be 
much better handled by treating them as incidental. 

What the most of us who haven't cultivated a sense 
of humor don't realize is that we are all pipe-lines. 
We clog ourselves up with our own immediate and 
material concerns, and defeat the very possibilities that 
ought to run through us. We never see much farther 
than the ends of our noses. A sense of humor, there- 
fore, is nothing but a sense of detachment. It enables 
a man, not only to stand off and look at himself in the 
right perspective, but to see everything else in the same 
way. 

How to develop it ? 

First, remember that it doesn't consist in the mere 
saying of clever things. It isn't being merely witty. 
Pure wit is often caustic — ^and expensive. A French 
courtier, seating himself between Talleyrand and a lady 
remarked, "Now I sit between wit and beauty." To 
vvrhich Talleyrand replied, "And without possessing 
either." 

And perhaps you have heard some young person say 
(it has so often been said to me!) "I always see the 
funny side of everything." 

That is not quite it. 

A sense of humor does not always — at least at first 
—consist of the mere ability to seem to be humorous. 
To develop it requires three things: 



ELLIS PARKER BUTLER 89 

First, cultivate your imagination so that you will be 
able, not only to visualize an object, but to concen- 
trate your mind upon it, in order to see it as if it 
actually stood before you, and to analyze it in its vari- 
ous parts, and come to value its relationship to other 
objects. This is the art of perspective. 

Second, detach yourself from yourself. Be able to 
look at yourself as if you were somebody else. Say 
to yourself, "I am not the only pebble on the beach. I 
am only one, and a small one at that." When you 
have held this thought over a certain period, you will 
be surprised how it will free you from certain things 
that at the time seemed all important and serious, but 
which in reality are only incidental. 

Third, practice contrast. Learn to hold two objects 
in your mind simultaneously, and how and why they 
differ from each other. By and by, when you pass 
judgment on any man, you will be able to take all of 
his contrasting qualities at once, and estimate them in 
their proper proportions. 

From this training which, by the way, is in itself 
a constant revelation and delight, there will gradually 
come to you an accurate and powerful sense of humor. 
It will make you more honest, more direct, give you 
a proper humility and inspire the confidence of others. 
It will give you the trick of always putting yourself in 
the other fellow's place. This in itself is a great asset. 
Real humor is always founded on truth, which others 
recognize as soon as uttered. 

Probably the humor of "Pigs Is Pigs" is so good 
because it is founded on truth. When I began this 
chapter, I intended to write exclusively about Butler. 




90 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Instead of this I have let him tell about himself and 
have then done most of the talking. But never mind. 
This is a book about American humorists. In this 
place it may not have been unwise to have stated what 
I thought about a sense of humor. I know that Butler 
won't mind, for, being a married man like myself, he is 
uncomplaining and tolerant. 



CHAPTER VII 



IRVIN COBB 



IRVIN COBB has written things about himself, I 
was about to add, "in a quite impersonal way," 
when I remembered that he had written about his 
being fat and had referred to the fact that he was 
homely, whereas he is nothing of the sort. Also, other 
people have written about him, but neither he, nor 
anyone else, has ever done him justice, not even Bob 
Davis, or Grant Overton. 

Cobb is wrong about himself and others are wrong 
about him. I am the only one who really understands 
him, and yet to save me I cannot explain him in just 
the way that I should like. 

I have said that Cobb is impersonal when writing 
about himself; what follows this brief introduction to 
him will emphasize what I mean. He does not take , 
himself seriously but he does take his work seriously. Ji 
This difference is very important, because it lies at the 
heart of most of our human relationships. Cobb has 
what I call literary integrity, but it is purely imper- 
sonal. The honesty of some people is so offensive that 
we wish the world were inhabited by more interesting 
criminals ; not that the world isn't, but merely that even 
they try to be too honest about it. 

91 



92 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Perhaps I can put it in another way by saying that 
Cobb is a natural man. And he is a natural workman. 
I have no doubt that he thinks he is homely. On the 
contrary, he is handsome. Handsome does not ex- 
press just how Cobb looks, but if it did express it, 
that is the way Cobb would look. That is to say, he 
is very satisfactory to look at. I don't know of any 
man that I would rather look at than Irvin Cobb, and 
I am not joking about this. He has all the human 
qualities. And when he talks I could listen to him 
all the time. I might want to stop for meals, but if 
I did, I should want him sitting next to me. 

The conversations of so many men have been so 
overrated. All through literature you read about what 
wonderful talkers some men were. There was Swin- 
burne; there was Macaulay; there was Tennyson; 
there was Oscar Wilde. I have always believed that 
these men were overrated. I read once of how 
Swinburne (I remember now, it was in a book called 
"The Education of Henry Adams*') kept a whole 
company of people up until very late talking wonderful 
talk and reciting poetry. I don't believe it. He must 
have been a deadly bore. Indeed, Max Beerbohm 
indicates this. Few of us are honest when it comes 
to our literary opinions. The memory of some 
evening in which we drank too much hangs over 
us like a beautiful rainbow; stripped of its colors 
it is only Scotch and soda. When I say that I would 
rather listen to Cobb talk than to anybody else I know, 
^ I mean it in the right sense. Cobb is human. He is 
not thinking about himself except in the right way. He 
is sympathetic. He is broad-souled. His book "Speak- 



IRVIN COBB 93 

ing of Operations" is funny because, in reality — al- 
though it may seem quite the opposite — it is imper- 
sonal. I remember when it first came out in the 
Saturday Evening Post. A number of people spoke 
to me about it. "Have you seen that thing of Irvin ii^ 
Cobb's? It's immense/' And so on. You see, th^'^JU^ 
were all taking it to themselves. They thought it hsca^ 
happened to them. And that, I take it, is one of the ^ 
tests of real humor. 

Another test of humor is its popularity. If a lot 
of people read it, that shows that it has something to 
it. I heard this story, which may or not be true, but 
it is such a satisfactory story that I must tell it. It 
is about Mr. Cobb and Mr. Lorimer, the editor of the 
Saturday Evening Post. One day Mr. Lorimer went 
out to a newsdealer nearby to see how his paper was 
selling. And the newsdealer said : 

"They ask me if there is an)rthing in it by Cobb. If 
there is, they buy it. If there isn't, they don't." 

Thereupon Mr. Lorimer said, "I must cut out Cobb." 

I don't believe this story. But it is a good one. That 
is the main difficulty about the best stories. They are 
probably not true. 

I was highly amused one day to pick up a book by 
Mr. H. L. Mencken, and read what he had to say 
about Cobb. He didn't like him. He said so. 
Mencken, so far as I have been able to discover in his 
writings, doesn't like anybody. Maybe he is right. 
Not to like anybody at all may be a creditable object for 
any man's ambition. It is a large undertaking. I 
have tried to dislike certain people at intervals, but in 
most cases have had to give it up. After pursuing 



94 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the objects of my wrath persistently, I got tired out 
and ended by liking them, finding them in the long 
run much like myself. Even Mr. Mencken is under 
this handicap. After several pages in which he explains 
at some length why Cobb is not a humorist, or at least 
not a good humorist — in which he refers to the Cobb 
whisker motif, the Cobb wheeze, and the Cobb pub- 
lisher, he winds up with : 

Nevertheless, even so laboriously flabby a farceur 
has his moments. I turn to Frank J. Wilstach's "Dic- 
tionary of Similes" and find this credited to him "No 
more privacy than a goldfish." Here, at last, is some- 
thing genuinely humorous. Here, moreover, is some- 
thing apparently new. 

To have Mr. Mencken admit that Cobb has been 
guilty of something genuinely humorous and ap- 
parently new is certainly going some. But that shows 
what can happen even to a man like Mencken if he 
reads Irvin Cobb. 

Cobb, in common with Abraham Lincoln, was bom 
in Kentucky (in 1876). This — I regret to say I re- 
member it — was the year of the great Centennial. The 
Centennial, as doubtless nobody but myself remembers, 
took place chiefly in Philadelphia. Cobb little knew in 
that year that he was destined in time to keep Philadel- 
phia before the people by his later contributions in the 
Saturday Evening Post. 

There is, however, one stain on his career — a dark 
spot that I hope he will have removed as soon as 
possible. He has permitted the publishers of "Who's 



IRVIN COBB 95 

Who in America" to state that he was a "staff humor- 
ist." We have all of us, at one time or another, been 
staff humorists. If you are any sort of a man when 
your first baby is bom (and also subsequently), you 
become a staff humorist to that child by imitating the 
ribald antics of the common or garden horse. But to 
have this put down in cold print is quite another thing. 
That Cobb has permitted this to be done to him is 
another evidence of his humility, of the impersonal 
manner in which he regards himself. That man would 
let anything be said about him. After being born, he 
attended private schools, from which he recovered 
sufficiently to get into Dartmouth College, which^f^ 
honored him with a degree in 191 8. Let me now, with""' 
the permission of the polite publishers of "Who's 
Who," quote from that indispensable household 
adjunct : 

Shorthand reporter, contbr. to comic weeklies, re- 
porter on local paper up to 17; editor Paducah Daily 
News at 19; staff corr. and writer "Sour Mash" col- 
umn Louisville (Ky.) Evening Post 1 898-1 901 . . . 
represented Saturday Evening Post as war corr. in 
Europe ; lectured throughout U. S. on "What I saw at 
the Front." Apptd. col. on staff gov. of Ky. 1918; 
Chevalier Legion of Honor (France) 1918. 

As for Cobb's books, they are quite numerous, and 
many of them highly amusing. Personally, if I may 
be allowed, I like "The Escape of Mr. Trimm" best. ^' 
His story of "The Belled Buzzard" is a masterpiece. 
There are highly distinguished critics in England who 
think he is the best short-story writer in America. As 



i 



96 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

for his work as a humorist, he has written to me by 
request, as follows : 

Almost as far back as I distinctly can remember I 
tried to write funny stuff. At the grammar school I 
wrote alleged verses to accompany the pictures I drew. 
At that time my main ambition was to be a caricaturist. 
I had a small gift that way. My mother says I tried 
to draw pictures before I could walk, and, among her 
possessions, she treasures some drawings in color, ter- 
ribly crude things, that I did before I was four years 
old. 

The first three things of mine that were ever pub- 
lished in a magazine were alleged comics — ^ppn-and-ink 
drawings — ^which I sent to Texas Sif tings when I was 
about fourteen years old. Texas Sif tings printed 
them but forgot to pay me for them. However, I 
didn't crave any pay. Merely to see them printed was 
reward enough for me. In a scrap-book which I com- 
piled when I was about fifteen — the only scrap-book, 
by the way, I ever made, and which I still have — ^two 
of the pictures from Texas Sif tings are pasted. The 
third clipping got lost and I have forgotten its subject. 

I suppose, except for a bad turn in the family for- 
ttmes, I should to-day be a cartoonist, or a caricaturist, 
or an illustrator — ^probably a very bad one. I had 
grown through boyhood with the expectation of study- 
ing art and afterward taking it up as a profession. 
But, when I was sixteen years old, my father's very 
modest source of obtaining a livelihood failed him and 
it became necessary for me, a few months later, to 
leave school — ^which was no gprief to me — and to go to 
work in order to help out with my earnings the family 
exchequer. I had grown up with the smell of printer's 
ink in my snoot. My favorite uncle, for whom I ¥fas 



IRVIN COBB 97 

named, was a country editor and one of the best para- 
graphers, I think, of the old school of Southern para* 
graphers founded by George D. Prentiss. My favorite 
play-place had been the cluttered editorial room of a 
little daily where this uncle of mine encouraged me to 
draw and try to write. A little further along I had 
carried papers over a route and on Saturdays I would 
hang about the newspaper shop and get pleasure out of 
the pretense that I was actually helping to get out the 
paper. 

So it was natural, I suppose, when it became incum- 
bent upon me to get a job, that I should seek one in a 
newspaper office. I became a "prentice reporter," so- 
called, at a salary of $1.75 a week. I expect I was 
about the rawest cub that ever lived, but I had my share 
of energy if I had no other equipment. When I wasn't 
hustling after local items I was working over an old- 
fashioned chalk-plate trying to draw illustrations for 
news stories, and cartoons on local topics. Presently, 
though, my reportorial duties so broadened that I no 
longer found time for the picture-making end of the 
game, and with a few inconspicuous exceptions I have 
never tried to draw for publication since. Long ago I 
ceased to draw for my own amusement, and, with 
disuse, I have almost altogether lost the knack of it and 
the inclination for it. 

The editor of the paper on which I worked flattered 
my vanity and stirred my ambitions in a new direction 
by telling me he thought I had a turn for writing 
"funny stuff." Encouraged by him, I turned out bales 
of bum jingles and supposedly humorous comment on 
local subjects. And he was good enough to print the 
stuff; and a few subscribers were good enough to com- 
pliment it. I date the beginning of my downward 
career from that time. 



98 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

When I was nineteen a change in ownership of the 
paper threw him out of a job, and for a short while I 
filled his place with the title of "managing editor." I 
had the double distinction of being the youngest man- 
aging editor of a daily paper in the United States — 
and the worst one. When, a few months later, the 
publishers of the paper found out what ailed the paper 
they induced the editor to come back again to his for- 
mer berth and I lost my peacock feathers and became 
once more a plain reporter. A photograph taken of me 
about this time proves what a plain reporter I was. 

However, I was not sorry, really, at being reduced to 
the ranks, because once again I had time and opportu- 
nity to write alleged funny stuff. A few of the state 
papers began copying my junk, and I derived consider- 
able satisfaction thereby but no added glory, to speak 
of, since my copy was not signed. The paper got the 
credit instead. 

Two or three years later I moved to Louisville and 
became a political reporter on the Evening Post. On 
this paper I wrote an occasional column under the title 
"Kentucky Sour Mash.** The column was made up of 
paragraphs, short articles mainly containing supposedly 
whimsical digs at politicians and public characters, and 
verses. My poetry was so wooden that it fairly creaked 
at the joints, but I could turn it out by the yard. 
Here's a curious thing : For twenty years now I have 
done no versifying, and I find it almost impossible to 
frame lines that will scan and rhyme, whereas this used 
to be the easiest thing I did. My wits have rusted here 
just as my hand has lost the trick of making pictures. 

From the time I was twenty-five until I was twenty- 
nine, past, I wrote scarcely a line that was designed to 
be humorous. During that time I was the managing 
editor, back in Paducah, of the same paper, the News, 



IRVIN c6bB 99 

upon which I had made my start ; only now it was the 
News-Democrat, with linot)rpc machines and a brief 
telegraph service. I worked day and night on routine 
editorial duties, with no opportunity for the lighter side 
of journalistic writing. Here, for the first time in my 
life, I discovered I had things called nerves. 

I threw up my job, sent my wife and my year-old 
baby down to Georgia to stay for a while as non-pay- 
ing guests at my father-in-law's house, and, with a hun- 
dred dollars of borrowed money in my pocket, landed in 
New York in the middle of the hottest summer of the 
Qiristian Era. I spent three weeks trying unsuccess- 
fully to get a job— any kind of a job. When my money 
was almost gone I had an idea; born of desperation 
I suppose it was. I wrote out a form letter full of 
josh, telling how good I was and explaining that New 
York journalism needed me to make it brighter and 
better. I sent a copy of this letter to every managing 
editor in town. This, I suppose, might be called my 
first attempt at being humorous for a metropolitan 
audience. Inside of two days I had replies from six 
managing editors, including Arthur Brisbane, either 
offering me work right away or promising me the first 
available opening on their staffs. I went to work for 
the Evening Sun. At the outset I did reportorial work. 
In a few months I was writing a good half of the 
Evening Sun's Saturday back page of humor and, in 
addition, editing the page. Howsomever, what got me 
a job, at better pay on the Evening World, was not my 
humorous stuff but some straight news stories which I 
wrote for the Sun, 

I stayed with the Evening World six years. I was a 
reasonably busy person. I was a reporter, a rewrite 
man, and at intervals a staff -correspondent on out-of- 
town assignments. I covered the two Thaw trials and 



lOO OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

probably a dozen other big criminal cases. Between 
times I wrote an average of three satirical or supposedly 
humorous signed articles a week for the magazine page 
of the Evening World and contributed special articles 
to the Sunday World, During the last four years of 
the six I spent under the World dome I wrote a page 
of humor under the titles: "The Hotel Clerk Says" 
and "Live Talks With Dead Ones" for the magazine 
section of the Sunday edition. In four years and twelve 
weeks I did not, on a single Sunday, miss filling my 
page. These articles were syndicated over the coun- 
try, but I then regarded my humorous work, as I still 
do to a greater or less extent, as a sort of side-line, for 
my energies wer« largely devoted to handling news 
stories, and I did the lighter stuff at odd intervals be- 
tween murders and fires. There used to be a saying in 
the Evening World shop that when, in a lull in city 
work, I sat down at my typewriter and stuck a clean 
sheet of paper into the machine and looked as though 
I were going to burst into tears, it was a sign that I 
was preparing to try to write something funny. I may 
add that, in this regard, I have not greatly changed. I 
still regard humorous writing as about the most serious 
work a writing-man can do. I've never yet got a laugh 
out of anything I wrote in the line of humor. I trust 
that others have, occasionally, but I haven't. 

My first attempt at out-and-out fiction-writing was 
made nine years ago at the end of a two weeks' vaca- 
tion, when I was still on the World, It was a sort of 
horror story without a line in it that could be called 
humorous. I wrote it on a bet with my ally that I 
could write a straight serious fiction story and sell it 
to a reputable magazine. I won the bet. The StUurday 
Evening Post bought it and printed it. It was called 
"The Escape of Mr. Trimm." When my contract with 



IRVIN COBB loi 

the World expired I was emboldened to try magazine- 
writing for a means of livelihood, and I have been at 
it ever since. Perhaps a third of my output is what 
my friends are kind enough to call humor; the other 
two-thirds is made up of serious stuff — character yarns 
and descriptive articles, as when I went twice to the 
war for the Post, and straight fiction. I find that when 
I have written something of the humorous order it 
gives me an appetite, so to speak, to turn out a nice, 
gruesome, gory, Edgar- AUan-Poeish kind of tale, and 
vice versa. Personally, I would rather do the straight 
fiction ; at the same time, I must confess that from the 
standpoint of popularity and financial returns in the 
form of book royalties, my most successful single piece 
of work is "Speaking of Operations," which in book 
form has sold upwards of 300,000 copies in five years, 
which still is selling at the rate of 25,000 copies a year, 
and which by a majority of those who read it is re- 
garded as being humorous, although my friend Mr. 
H. L. Mencken does not agpree with them. He thinks 
it's sad, not to say dreary, and perhaps he is right. 

One curious thing I have discovered: A man may 
write serious fiction for ten years or do straight repor- 
torial work for ten years, but let him turn out one piece 
of foolery that tickles the public in its short-ribs and, 
from that hour, he is branded as a humorist. 

I have no set rule or pet formulas for writing humor. 
First, I get an idea. I let it churn up and down a while 
inside my head until the butter- fats begin to form; 
then I sit down and write it. Usually, but not always, 
I rewrite it once, touching it up and smoothing off the 
comers, and then I let it go. I have found that about 
fifty per cent, roughly, of my lines and points come to 
me in conversation with persons congenially inclined. 
The other fifty per cent, about, hop on the paper during 




r^- 



I02 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the throes of childbirth, when I am making the first 
draft of the copy. I have also found out that I am 
decidedly a poor judge of the humor-values of my own 
writings. What I think is going to be funny when I 
set it down frequently falls flat. What I do not regard 
as especially funny more often goes over well with the 
reader. 

I said just now that I had no rules in writing humor. 
I take that back. I have two rules which I endeavor 
to follow as closely as may be. In what I write with 
" intent to be humorous I try to avoid giving offense to 
any individual. To my way of thinking, a joke that 
hurts the feelings of some one, or that leaves a sore 
spot on another's pelt, or that deals with the physical 
infirmities of men and women, is not such a very good 
joke after all. My other rule is this: When I write 
humor I seek, between the lines, to say to the reader : 
"Listen, old man, Fm about to poke fun at some of the 
foolish things you have done and said, but understand, 
please, that no matter how foolish you may have been 
in your time Tm a bigger ass than you ever can hope 
to be. We're both in the same boat, so bear with me 
while I make confession for the two of us." I am 
sure that if a humorous writer assumes this attitude 
and adheres to it the reader subconsciously falls into a 
state of mental sympathy with him and is more apt to 
like what is written. 

If I may be permitted to lecture a few of my fellow- 
laborers, I would like to say that, in my opinion, the 
mistake some really humorous writers make is in as- 
suming, wittingly or unwittingly, an air of superiority 
— in other words, it is as though they sat on a high 
pinnacle in a rarefied atmosphere of aloofness, looking 
down pityingly from that great height upon the foolish, 
futile, scrambling little human ants far beneath them. 



IRVIN COBB 103 

and stirring up those ants with barbed satire and clever 
ridicule. I am sure the reader resents this, even though 
he may not exactly know what it is that irritates him, 
and I am sure also another result is that these writers, 
real humorists though they may be, rarely are publicly 
recognized and acknowledged as humorists. The man 
who aspires to be known as a humorist must constantly 
be saying, not, "What fools those mortals be,*' but 
"What fools all mortals be — ^myself prominently in- 
cluded." To cite a few conspicuous and justly popular 
examples, Mark Twain and Bill Nye had this gift, and, 
among the living, George Ade and Don Marquis and 
Ring Lardner and Ellis Parker Butler and Ed Howe 
and Walt Mason — ^may their tribe increase — ^likewise 
have it. 



CHAPTER VIII 



HOMER CROY 



I HAVE known Homer Croy intimately during 
the past twenty years, having seen him twice dur- 
ing that stretch. That is why I can write about 
him authoritatively. I have his secret. I got it the 
first time I met him; I confirmed it the second time. 
The reason he doesn't know his own secret is because 
(as you will see) he was bom in Missouri. Folks 
born in Missouri never realize the truth about them- 
selves. They are all people that are pursuing other 
occupations than those that God intended them to 
pursue. 

The trouble with Homer Croy is that he is a humor- 
ist and not a novelist. He thinks he is a novelist first 
and a humorist second. He has written some very 
funny things, but their publication, for some reason 
(because he was bom in Missouri), has had the oppo- 
site effect from what God intended. Just as soon as 
he wrote a really good piece of humor, he imme- 
diately thought he could write a novel. He is now 
writing novels instead of humor. Having said this 
much about him, I shall leave him to explain himself— 
which of course he doesn't: 

104 



HOMER CROY 105 

I am glad I have so lived that I can tell* people 
about it. 

I was born in Missouri, just south of the water tank, 
of that popular brand of parents — ^poor but honest. It 
was early seen that I looked like my father, but the 
tendency to be poor I inherited from both sides of the 
house. 

My first job was on the local paper, the Maryville 
Tribune, for which I received three dollars a week — 
every week, rain or shine. I was the best leg reporter 
the paper ever had. I could walk farther and ask more 
questions getting a two-line item than any other person 
ever employed on the paper. 

The first two weeks I was on the paper about the 
only stories I turned in were happenings in our imme- 
diate family. One day the editor called me in and said, 
'Tm afraid I'll have to dispense with your services. 
There aren't enough Croys taking the paper to make 
retaining you profitable." 

Taking the hint I resigned. 

Some way or other I graduated from college and 
started out to conquer the world. I often think of this 
as I look at my mortgage. 

Then I got a job on the St, Louis Post Dispatch and 
stayed with it as long as my friend was managing 
editor. Then I told the publishers they would have to 
shift for themselves, and I came East. 

I had never had the slightest interest in baseball and 
had never attended a big league game, but by a twist of 
circumstance I became editor of the Baseball Magazine. 
A few weeks after I had been made editor I went to a 
game and found it much as I had expected. 

Becoming interested in motion pictures, I talked one 
of the film companies into sending me around the 
world. I had a good time, but the company since has 



io6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

never asked me to make another trip for it. Ever since, 
I have been more or less interested in motion pictures 
and wrote some books on the subject. As far as the 
reviews went, they were a huge success, but as far as 
the royalties go, the secret is locked in the breast of 
myself and the publisher. 

My chief interest is in novels of realism and humor, 
located in the Middle West. Of these I have written 
two or three. 

I live in Forest Hills Gardens, Long Island. Just 
ask anybody where and they will tell you — ^the little 
house with the big mortgage. 

In order, however, to make sure that nobody will 
think that Homer Croy is not a humorist, the follow- 
ing sketch, written by him, alone and unaided, is 
appended herewith : 

Bathing in a Borrowed Suit 

The desire to be seen on the beach in a borrowed 
bathing suit is not so strong in me as it once was. An 
acquaintance, under the guise of friendship, lured me 
out to his beach one day, saying that he had full rights 
to the most popular ocean in the world. I had heard 
his ocean spoken highly of, and I accepted. 

Unfortunately I forgot to take my bathing suit, but 
he said that that was nothing — that he had one that 
would fit me as the paper on the wall. As I recall it 
those were his exact words. 

At last he found it in the basement, where it seems 
that the mice, to get the salt, had helped themselves 
rather liberally to its none too strong fabric. From 
the holes in the suit it was easy to see that the party 



I 



HOMER CROY 107 

had been a merry one and had not broken up till a late 
hour. 

The suit had never been planned for a person of my 
general architecture. Roughly speaking, I am fash- 
ioned along the lines of the Woolworth Building, with 
a slight balcony effect about the thirty-third floor. The 
suit had been intended for a smallish person given to 
bathing principally by himself. It was, in its present 
state, mostly a collection of holes rather insecurely 
held together with yarn. The waist would have been 
tight on a doll, while the trunks looked like a pair of 
pulse-warmers. 

I tried to find a place to get into the suit, but it 
stuck together like a wet paper bag. At last I got part 
way in only to find that my arms were sticking through 
where a couple of mice had polished off a meal. 

Finally I felt that I had the suit on and looked in the 
mirror. I drew back in startled surprise. There were 
two foreign marks on my body. One I recognized 
after a moment as being where my collar button had 
rubbed, but the other was larger. It was a d^rk 
splotch as if I had run into the bureau. But, on 
looking more closely, I saw that it was the bathing 
suit. 

Even under the most favorable circumstances, when 
attired in a bathing suit, I don't live long in the memory 
of strangers. Rarely ever is my photograph taken by a 
shore photographer and put up in his exhibition case, 
and practically never does a cluster of people gather 
around me, talking excitedly with bursts of involuntary 
applause. 

My friends were waiting on the lawn for me to join 
them. Taking a firm grip on my courage I walked out 
into the yard. The ladies were gayly chatting and 
smiling until they saw me, when suddenly they closed 



io8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ihe conversation and turned to gaze far out over the 
blue horizon to a dim, distant sail. 

The ocean looked only a couple of blocks away, but 
we seemed to walk miles. I was the cynosure of all 
^yes. I had never been a C)mosure before, and in fact 
didn't know that I had any talent in that line, but now, 
as a cynosure, I was a great success. When some rude 
boys came up and began to make personal remarks in 
the tone that such remarks are usually made in, I 
abandoned the rest of the party and hurried for the 
water. I plunged in, but I plunged too hard. My suit 
liad got past the plunging stage. When I came up there 
was little on me besides the sea foam and a spirit of 
jollity. The latter was feigned. 

Something told me to keep to the deep. My friends 
called me and insisted that I come ashore tp play in the 
sand with them, but I answered that I loved the ocean 
too well and wanted its sheltering arms around me. 
I had to have something around me. 

I must get back to the house and into my clothes. 
I worked down the beach until I was out of sight, and 
made a break for the solace of the basement from 
whence the suit had come. Many people were out 
walking but I did not join any of them, and as they 
stared at me, I began to walk faster and faster. Soon 
I was running. A large dog that I had never seen be- 
fore rushed at me. I turned around and gave him one 
lowering look, but he evidently did not catch it, for he 
came straight on. I looked around for a rock to use 
for something that I had in mind, but somebody had 
removed all the desirable ones. So I turned my back 
to the ill-bred creature and started on. However, this 
did not cut him the way I had hoped. Instead, he came 
on with renewed interest. I did not want him to follow 
me, but this seemed to be his intention, although he had 



HOMER CROY 109 

received no encouragement on my part. I sped up and 
tried to lose him, but my efforts were fruitless, and to 
make it more unpleasant he kept up a loud, discordant 
barking which jarred on my sensitive ear. 

I gained the yard and plunged against the door of 
the house, but some thoughtful person had closed it. I 
ran around to the rear, but the person had done his 
work well. So I ran back with some vague hope that 
the door would be open, although I knew quite well it 
wouldn't be. My surmises were right. Back the dog 
and I ran together, while curious passers-by began to 
stare. I soon found myself almosttout of breath, but 
the dog seemed to be quite fresh. However, I ran back 
again. At last I came upon a basement door that was 
open, dived in and shut the door after me. I took par- 
ticular pains to do that. 

I continued to remain in the basement. Although the 
time hung heavily on my hands I did not stroll out to 
chat with the townspeople. In the course of time my 
friend returned and looked at me strangely. 

'Aren't you feeling well?" he asked pityingly. 
^No," I answered sadly. "I feel kind of run down." 

"But why did you get in this basement?" he asked. 
"It belongs to the man next door." 

Of late I get all the bathing I want with a sponge 
behind closed doors. I would rather have a sponge that 
has been in the family a long time at my back, than a 
strange dog similarly located, with whose habits I am 
not familiar. 



4€ 



CHAPTER IX 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE was bom in Chicago 
(in 1867), thus bearing out the contention of 
Mr. H. L. Mencken, that Chicago is the real 
literary center of the United States. Eugene Field 
was also evolved in Chicago, as well as George Ade, 
so it seems conclusively proved that as a Port of Hu- 
morists, there is none to dispute Chicago's supremacy. 

Boston has produced Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sam- 
uel McChord Crothers, and latterly. Vice President 
Coolidge, all of whom are humorists more or less. 
Philadelphia has produced, or at least fostered, Ben- 
jamin Franklin and George Horace Lorimer. Other 
cities have produced other humorists, but Chicago 
appears to be the right atmosphere for a humorist to 
grow up in. After he has grown up, has suffered 
enough from his environment, so to speak, he may go 
elsewhere with personal safety, but it is doubtful if he 
will ever do anything better than what Chicago has 
given him to do. 

Mr. Dunne began in Chicago. "Mr. Dooley," we 
believe, was born in Chicago. When Mr. Dunne 
brought him to New York he lasted a long time. "Mr. 
Dooley" is an immortal, but his voice of late has 
lapsed into such silence as to be a cause of lament. 

no 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE iii 

There has been none quite like Mr. Dunne's "Mr. 
Dooley." There has been coarser and more turbulent 
wit. There has been more delicate literary fooling. 
But "Mr. Dooley," in his observations, was so unerring, 
so philosophical, so true, and so witty, that we seem 
to miss him more than ever. To have created a char- 
acter like that, and to let a war go by without having 
the privilege of listening to him, is a crime against 
civilization. But so it has been. Peter Dunne, being 
a genius, and "Mr. Dooley," being born of Peter 
Dunne, there is nothing else for us to do but resign 
ourselves to such substitutes as we have had. Some 
of them have been good, but not like "Mr. Dooley." 

The fact is that, before the war, "Mr. Dooley," in 
his friendly manner, said all there was to be said : that 
is, he anticipated so much that to read him over again 
is much like reading Aristophanes over again : we see 
at once that he is a genuine modern. Here is an ex- 
tract from his "War Expert" which was published in 
1902 : 

Mr. Dooley was reading the war news, — not our 
war news but the war news we are interested in — when 
Mr. Hennessy interrupted him to ask "What's a war 
expert?" 

"A war expert," said Mr. Dooley, "is a man ye niver 
heerd iv befure. If ye think iv annywan whose face is 
onfamilyar to ye an' ye don't raymimber his name, an* 
he's got a job on a pa-per ye didn't know was published, 
he's a war expert. 'Tis a har-rd office to fill. Whin a 
war begins th' timptation is strong f 'r ivry man to grab 
hold iv a gun an' go to th' f r-ront. But th' war expert 



112 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

has to subjoo his cravin' f 'r blood. He says to himsilf, 
'Lave others seek th' luxuries iv Ufe in camp/ he says. 
T'r thim th' boat races acrost th' Tugela, th' romp 
over the kopje, an' th' game iv laager, laager, who's got 
th' laager ?' He says. *I will stand be me counthry,' he 
says, 'close,' he says. *If it fails,' he says, 'it will fall 
on me,' he says. An' he buys himsilf a map made be a 
fortune teller in a dhream, a box iv pencils an' a field 
glass, an' goes an' looks f'r a job as a war expert. 
Says the editor iv th' paaper: 'I don't know ye. Ye 
must be a war expert,' he says. 'I am/ says th' la-ad. 
'Was ye iver in a war?' says th' editor. 'I've been in 
nawthin' else,' says th' la-ad. 'During the Spanish- 
American war, I held a job as a dhramatic critic in 
Dedham Matsachoosets,' he says. 'Whin th' bullets 
flew thickest in th' Soodan I was spoortin' editor iv th' 
Christy an Advocate,' he says. 'I passed through th' 
Franco-Prooshan war an' held me place, an' whin th' 
Turks an' Rooshans was at each other's throats, I used 
to lay out th' campaign iviry day on a checker board,' 
he says. 'War,' he says, 'has no terrors f'r me,' he 
says. 'Ye're th' man f'r th' money,' says th' editor. 
An' he gets th' job. 

"Thin th' war breaks out in earnest. No matther 
how many is kilt, annything that happens befure th' 
war expert gets to wurruk is on'y what we might call a 
prelimin'ry skirmish. He sets down an' bites th' end 
iv his pencil an' looks acrost th' sthreet an' watches a 
man paintin' a sign. Whin th' man gets through he 
goes to th' window an' waits to see whether th' polis- 
man that wint into th' saloon is afther a dhrink or 
sarvin' a warrant. If he comes r-right out it's a war- 
rant, thin he sets back in a chair an' figures out that th' 
pitchers on th' wall paaper ar-re all alike ivery third 
row- Whin his mind is thruly tuned up be these in- 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE iij 

thricate problems, he dashes to his desk an' writes what 
you an' I read th' next day in th* papers," 

The fact is that between 1898 and 1910 "Mr.^ 
Dooley" anticipated about everjrthing that was going 
to happen to us. There is scarcely a character in 
American life that he did not portray. Two thousand 
years from now it would only be necessary to read 
what "Mr. Dooley" has to say, in order to learn what 
Americans are today. The nearest approach to his 
books in their reaction upon his age and generation I 
find in the "Characters of Theophrastus," from which,^ 
(translated by Charles E. Bennett and William A. 
Hammond of Cornell and published by Longman's) 
I shall venture to quote. In order to show, over a 
lapse of centuries, how two satirists wrote of their 
people. Theophrastus dates from the fourth century 
before Christ. 

The types described by Theophrastus [writes the 
introducer] are types of such intrinsic qualities, and 
his pictures of ancient vices and weaknesses show men 
much as we see them now. They are not merely types 
of professions or callings. Apart from slight varia- 
tions of local coloring and institutions, the descriptions 
of the 'old Greek philosopher might apply almost as well 
to the present inhabitants of London or Boston as to 
the Athenians of 300 B.C. Theophrastus, on the death 
of Aristotle (322 B.C.), succeeded to the presidency of 
the Lyceum, over which he continued to preside for 
thirty-five years. . . . Diogenes Laertius reports that 
two thousand students thronged to him. . . . He died 
in 287 B.C. in the eighty-fifth year of his age. . . . 
Theophrastus was one of the greatest polygraphs in 



\ 



114 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

antiquity. Two hundred and twenty-seven works are 
attributed to him. ... As a local and popular force he 
surpassed Aristotle. . . . His estimate of oral converse 
at table is recorded in a rather brusque and un- Athen- 
ian remark said to have been made by him to a silent 
neighbor at dinner: "Sir, if you are an ignorant man, 
your conduct shows wisdom ; but if you are a wise man, 
you act like a fool.'' 

Which is not wholly unlike a remark made by Peter 
Dunne to the present writer. The occasion was a din- 
ner given to a common friend at the University Club 
in New York. The present writer, upon being called 
upon, rose to speak, when Mr. Dunne, sitting next to 
him, whispered in a very loud voice: 

"Sit down, Tom ; you can't talk." 

I have been at some pains to give this slight account 
of Theophrastus, because I propose to quote what he 
says about an avaricious man, and then to quote "Mr. 
Dooley" on the same. 

This is Theophrastus: 

The Avaricious Man 
By Theophrastus, 300 B.C. 

Avarice is greedy love of gain. When the avaricious 
man gives a dinner, he puts scant allowances of bread 
on the table. He borrows money of a stranger who is 
lodging with him. When he distributes the portions at 
table, he says it is fair for the laborer to receive double 
and straightway loads his own plate. He engages in 
wine traffic, and sells adulterated liquors eyen to his 
friend. He goes to the show and takes his children 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE 115 

with him, on the days when the spectators are admitted 
to the galleries free. When he is the people's delegate, 
he leaves at home the money provided by the city, and 
borrows from his fellow commissioners. 

He loads more luggage on his porter than the man 
can carry, and provides him with the smallest rations 
of any man in the party. When presents are given the 
delegates by foreign courts, he demands his share at 
once, and sells it. At the bath he says the oil brought 
him is bad, and shouts : "Boy, the oil is rancid ;" and, 
in its stead, takes what belongs to another. If his serv- 
ants find money on the highway, he demands a share 
of it, saying: "Luck's gifts are common property.'* 
When he sends his cloak to be cleaned, he borrows an- 
other from an acquaintance and keeps it until it is 
asked for. He also does this sort of thing: he uses 
King Frugal's measure, with the bottom dented in, for 
doling out supplies to his household, and then secretly 
brushes off the top. He sells underweight even to his 
friend, who thinks he is buying according to the mar- 
ket standard. 

When he pays a debt of thirty pounds, he does so 
with a discount of four shillings. When, owing to 
sickness, his children are not at school the entire month, 
he deducts a proportionate amount from the children's 
pay ; and during the month of Anthesterion he does not 
send them to their studies at all, on account of their 
frequent shows, and so he avoids tuition fees. If he 
receives coppers from a slave who has been serving out, 
he demands in addition the exchange value of silver. 
When he gets a statement from the Deme's ^ adminis- 
trator, he demands provision for his slaves at public 
cost. 

He makes note of the half radishes left on the table, 

* A county or local division. 



ii6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

to keep the servants from taking them. If he goesl 
abroad with friends, he uses their servants and hires 
his own out ; yet he does not contribute to the common 
fund the money thus received. When others combine 
with him to give a banquet at his house, he secretly 
includes in his account the wood, figs, vinegar, salt and 
lamp-oil — trifles furnished from his supplies. If a 
marriage is announced in a friend's family he goes 
away a little beforehand, to avoid sending a wedding 
present. He borrows of friends such articles as they 
would not ask to have returned, or such as, if returned, 
they would not readily accept. 

And this from Finley Peter Dunne^ 

Avarice and Generosity 
As reported by Mr. Dooley 

I never blame a man f *r bein' avaricyous in his ol* 
age. Whin a fellow gits so he has nawthin else to 
injye, whin ivrybody calls him "sir" or "mister," an' 
young people dodge him an' he sleeps afther dinner, an' 
folks say he is an ol' fool if he wears a buttonhole 
bokay, an' his teeth is only tinants at will and not per- 
manent fixtures, tis no more than nach'ral that he shud 
begin to look around him f 'r a way iv keepin' a grip 
on human s'ciety. It don't take him long to see that 
th' on'y thing that's vin'rable in age is money, an' he 
pro'ceeds to acquire anjrthing that happens to be in 
sight, takin' it where he can find it, not where he wants 
it, which is the way to accumylate a fortune. Money 
wont prolong life, but a few millyuns judicyously 
placed in good banks an' occas'nally worn on the person 
will rayjooce age. Poor ol' men are always older thin 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE 117 

poor rich men. In th' almshouse a man is decrepit an' 
mournful-lookin' at sixty, but a millyonaire at sixty is 
jus' in th' prime iv life to a friendly eye, an' there are 
no others. 

It's aisier to th' ol' to grow rich thin it is to th' 
young. At makin' money a man iv sixty is miles ahead 
iv a la-ad iv twinty-five. Pollytics an' bankin' is th' 
on'y two games where age has th' best iv it. Youth has 
betther things to attind to, an' more iv them. I dont 
blame a man f 'r bein' stingy anny more thin I blame 
him f'r havin' a bad leg. Ye Imow th' doctors say 
that if ye dont use wan iv ye'cr limbs f'r a year or so 
ye can niver use it again. So it is with gin'rosity. A 
man starts arly in life not bein' gen-rous. He says to 
himself "I wurruked f 'r this thing an' if I give it away 
I lose it." He ties up his gen'rosity in bandages so that 
th' blood cant circylate in it. It gets to be a super- 
stition with him that he'll have bad luck if he iver does 
annything f 'r annybody. An' so he rakes in an' puts 
his private mark with his teeth on all the moveable 
money in th' worruld. But th' day comes whin he sees 
people around him gcttin' a good dale iv injyement out 
iv gen'rosity, an' somewan says "Why dont ye, too be 
gin'rous? Come, old green goods, unbolt, loosen up, 
be gin'rous." "Gin'rous?" says he, "What's that?" 
"It's the best spoort in the wurruld. Its givin' things 
to people." "But I cant," he says, "I haven't anny- 
thing to do it with," he says. "I dont know th' game. 
I haven't anny gin'rosity," he says. "But ye have," 
says they. "Ye have as much gen'rosity as anny wan if 
ye'U only use it," says they. "Take it out iv th' plasther 
cast ye put it in an' 'twill look as good as new," says 
they. An' he does it. He thries to use his gin'rosity, 
but all th' life is out iv it. It gives way undher him 
an' he falls down. He can't raise it fr'm th' groun\ 



ii8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

It's ossyfied an' useless. I've seen manny a fellow 
that suffered fr'm oss3rfied gen'rosity. 

Whin a man begins makin' money in his youth at 
annything but games iv chance he niver can become 
gin'rous late in life. He makes a bluff at it. Some 
men are gin'rous with a crutch. Some men get the use 
iv their gen'rosity back suddenly whin they ar-re in 
danger. Whin Clancy the miser was caught in a fire 
in th' Halsted Sthreet Palace Hotel he howled fr'm a 
window : "FU give twinty dollars to anny wan that'll 
take me down." Cap'n Minehan put up a laddher an' 
climbed to him an' carrid him to the sthreet. Half-way 
down th' laddher th' brave rayscooer was seen to be 
chokin' his helpless burdhen. We discovered afther- 
ward that Clancy had thried to begin negotyations to 
rayjooce th' reward to five dollars. His gin'rosity had 
become suddenly par'lyzed again. 

So if ye'd stay gin'rous to th' end, niver lave ye'cr 
gen'rosity idle too long. Don't run it ivry hour at th' 
top iv it's speed, but fr'm day to day give it a little 
gintle exercise to keep it supple an' hearty an' in due 
time ye may injye it. 

It is unnecessary for me to enlarge upon the de- 
lightful differences, as well as the underl)ring similarity 
of these two masterpieces of character taken from 
periods so wide apart in literary history. 

It is given to but few men to depict the characters of 
their own age in such manner that for future genera- 
tions they will stand out as miniature portraits. When 
one looks back upon the work that Peter Dunne has 
given us, it is so astonishing in its simplicity and accu- 
racy, that one cannot help but wonder at the American 
public that permits it to be buried tmder so much rub- 



FINLEY PETER DUNNE 119 

bish. But then, the public that eagerly snaps at genius 
generally forgets it. If all the newspaper files and 
histories were destroyed between the years 1898 and 
1 910 and nothing remained but Mr. Dooley's observa- 
tions, it would be enough. 

I recall quite vividly when they first attracted wide 
attention, and how eagerly they were read every week 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I was on a westbotmd 
train one Sunday — it must have been nearly or just 
beyond the close of the century — and of hearing a 
group of men reading aloud to one another the weekly 
Dooley letter and chortling with glee. And I think 
the first Dooley book in a few months sold well over 
a 100,000 copies. 

It may be put down as a solemn truth that any book 
widely read has something to it. The public indeed 
are not such fools as they sometimes are made to 
appear. There are any number of books that have sold 
as well if not better, than the first "Mr. Dooley,*' and 
have thereafter lapsed into obscurity. 

The humor of a particular generation also has its 
own flavor. But allowing for all this, it does seem to 
me as if "Mr. Dooley" must live. 

I don't think that Peter Dunne has ever appreciated 
how good it is. He has referred to it slightingly more 
than once. Dear me, how little some of us know about 
our own merits ! 



CHAPTER X 

(what a model biography this is!~t. l. m. 

ARTHUR FOLWELL 

NOT much to tell, just one year after another of 
earning a living. However, since you pester 
me. . . . 
Bom in Brooklyn in 1877 — ^if you insist — near a 
Long Island Railroad crossing. First defined ambition : 
to be a crossing gateman. Parents encouraged ambi- 
tion because gateman at nearest crossing told me I must 
"eat all my crusts" in order to get strong. Idea 
of writing— except in Spencerian copy-books — first 
dawned when in grammar school. Started a monthly 
paper that lasted five years; still regard it, in all 
probability, as my best constructive achievement. First 
contribution offered : a parody on "The Charge of the 
Light Brigade." Offered it to Puck, which returned it. 
First job : an office boy with the Thomas Cook Tourist 
Agency; held job three weeks, mailing in that time at 
least a million letters. Next job: glorified office boy 
with the Pitts Agricultural Works on Park Place, near 
Greenwich Street, in a back-room immediately adjoin- 
ing the roof of a rubber factory; rubber factory ex- 
haust pipe the inspiration for many maiden efforts. 
From here, made first sale ; a long bit of verse which I 
sent to Collier's Weekly. The editor, then Mr. Thomas 

120 



ARTHUR FOLWELL 121 

B. Connery, wrote: 'The reader recommends the ac- 
ceptance of your verses, *The Country of Once on a 
Time/ for $5." That, as I now figure it, was about 
5 cents a line. It looked like a mint to me. Wrote in- 
stantly of my glad acceptance, but never got any money. 
Finally wrote again, and then got my MSS. back with a 
note sasring : "You have delayed so long answering our 
letter, we are compelled to return your poem.'' Not 
even that discouraged me, although I hated to lose all 
that money. After much endeavoring, got a job at 
nothing a week with the Brooklyn Eagle, and resigned 
my office-boy place in the road-roller business, or per- 
haps I should say, road-roller game. My salary office- 
boying road-rollers was $4 a week; figured I could 
make that much with the Eagle, writing school news 
for the Sunday edition, on space. Pomeroy Burton, 
now a very, very great man in the employ of Lord 
Northcliffe, permitted me to feel that I was "on the 
Eagle." He was then city editor there, but it was 
Arthur M. Howe, now editor-in-chief of the Eagle 
and then (in 1895) a copy reader, who first read my 
stuff and had it in his power to make or break me. 
He let me live. Worked on the Eagle six years, first 
as a sports, then as a general work reporter. The city 
editor — ^various — let me do "the funny stories." And 
in my spare time, I was permitted to write verse and 
humorous specials for the Sunday paper without extra 
pay, or mention of it. The business manager, Mr. 
Herbert F. Gimnison, once said to me feelingly, 
"Folwell, you are very lucky for so young a man. See 
the large black type we let you sign your name in." 
From the Eagle office sent my first (accepted) contri- 
bution to a periodical; it was a burlesque bunch of 
country news items (old stuff now, and I guess it was 
then) called "This Week's Brooklyn Budget." Sent 



122 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

it to Puck. Sent everything I wrote to Puck. If they 
turned it down, threw it away or gave it to the Eagle, 
Finally, in 1902, got a letter from Harry Leon Wilson, 
then literary editor of Puck, offering me a job if I 
could make good. Wilson had just completed his first 
novel "The Spenders," and wished to quit reading 
jokes, writing what were undoubtedly the best editorials 
Puck ever printed, and thinking up cartoon ideas for 
artists. When I became house-broken, Wilson gave 
me the desk key — it had been Bunner's, too — ^and left ; 
have seen him twice since. Subsequent history: fired 
by John Kendrick Bangs in 1904; rehired at less 
money next day; succeeded Bangs as editor of Puck, 
Bangs having offered to "come down three days a week 
at $5000 a year." Wrote, around this time, one-third 
of a book, the other fractions being done by Bangs and 
Bert Leston Taylor respectively. Title: "Monsieur 
d'en Brochette," a burlesque historical novel. Royal- 
ties, none. On Puck until April, 1916; left during 
the reign of Nathan Straus, Jr., to go to the New York 
Tribune in its Sunday department. Fired, in company 
with Mr. Robert C. Benchley, when the war made oiu* 
frivolous viewpoints improper. Wrote a column, daily, 
for the Brooklyn Times; conducted "Film Fun" for 
the Leslie-Judge Company. Wrote for this, that 
and the other thing, from Smart Set to St. Nicholas 
as a free lance. On staff of Leslie publications 
when asked in 1921 to return to the Tribune as 
editor of Sunday magazine section. At this writing, 
still here. Using Tribune paper and typewriter to 
write this. 

Most extraordinary experience : the fact that I could 
never sell Life anjrthing after July, 1904, until the 
autumn of 1921. Sent Mr. Masson little piece in July, 
1904, and received letter saying, "More; this is just 



ARTHUR FOLWELL 123 

the sort of thing Life wants." Never could sell him 
anjrthing after that for seventeen years. 

Subject of sketch doesn't regard himself as much of 
a humorist, but has had twenty years' experience watch- 
ing others. 



CHAPTER XI 



SIMEON FORD 



SIMEON FORD, just because he has been for 
long the successful proprietor of a New York 
hotel, undoubtedly considers that he is immune 
to any highly immoral influence like mine. And so, 
when I wrote him, just as one Tom Sawyer to another, 
to write out the history of his life as a humorist, he 
replied as follows : 

Dear Mr. Masson : 

I don't take myself seriously eno' even to think of 
complying with your flattering request. 

Oblivious for yours sincerely, 

Simeon Ford. 

I am therefore under the stern necessity of writing 
about him myself, digging up such information as I 
find available. Mr, Ford did better for "Who's Who" 
than he did for me. Here is what that admirable pub- 
lication says about him, the proofs of which he cor- 
rected himself (for that's what they make you do) : 

Ford, Simeon, hotel propr. : born at Lafayette, Ind, 
Aug. 31, 1855. Ed. pub. schools, Propr. Gnmd Union 
Hotel. Mem. firm Ford X Shaw, Pres. Oflicial Hotel 
Red Book & Directory Co. (here follows a list of the 

124 



SIMEON FORD 125 

enterprises which Mr. Ford is interested in and winds 
up with "Well known as after-dinner speaker"). 

It was in 1904 that Mr. Ford published a book en- 
titled "A Few Remarks." I happen to have the fourth 
edition of that book. I don't know how many editions 
were sold after I bought mine. I do know that noth- 
ing could induce me to part with mine. Whenever I 
feel particularly depressed, I get down Mr. Ford's book 
and read something like this : 

I read that a man has just got $1,000,000 for a 
patent bottle which cannot be refilled and used a second 
time. We must get hold of that man and offer him his 
own price to invent a book which cannot be read by 
more than one person. I think my book will pretty 
nearly fill the bill. 

He then leaves his book and goes on to the subject 
of travel, and particularly about sleeping cars. 

I feel at liberty [he says] to make a few remarks on 
that branch of the railroad service, not in a carping 
spirit but more in sorrow than in anger. It is fre- 
quently remarked (especially in advertisements) that 
travel in our palace cars is the acme of comfort and 
luxury, and I guess they are about as perfect as they 
can be made and still pay dividends on diluted stock; 
and yet, after a night in one, I always feel as if I had 
been through an attack of cholera infantum. In winter, 
especially, the question of temperature is trying. The 
mercury, soon after you start, bounds up to iio*^ in the 
shade. You endure this until you melt off several 
pounds of hard-earned flesh and then you muster up 
courage and press the button. 



126 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

The Ethiopian "reluctantly emerges." He is told 
what to do. Whereupon he "removes the roof, sides 
and bottom of the car and the mercury falls to three 
below zero, while you sit there and freeze to death, not 
daring to again disturb him lest you sink still further 
in his estimation." 

Mr. Ford has a lot more to say, particularly about 
his experience in a Turkish bath, where the comb was 
chained to the wall but the brush was allowed to roam 
at will. He tells what the attendant did to him, he 
talks about patriotism and George Washington and 
automobiles, and no matter what he says he is very 
funny. And the funny part of all this is that it is 
just as funny when you read it as it is when he says 
it. The man has ideas. He is nobody's fool. He is 
a shrewd American citizen. He talks about clams and 
you laugh. He explains what, as a hotel proprietor, 
he is up against, and you almost believe him. You 
might believe him still more if you hadn't lived in New 
York yourself. 

Mr. Ford began his career as one of the best of our 
American humorists (although he would disclaim this) 
as an after-dinner speaker. I am told that he learned 
all of his speeches by heart beforehand. That was 
what Mark Twain did in many cases. I have often 
thought what a pity it was that Mr. Ford should have 
been a hotel proprietor, instead of an editorial writer. 
If he had started to write humorous editorials in 1904, 
with his acute mind, his native shrewdness, he might 
have changed the entire course of our country. He 
doesn't know now how good he is. 



CHAPTER XII 



S. W. GILLILAN 



I CANNOT Tell how many years ago it was, but 
it was I am sure somewhere in the nineties. I 
happened at that time to be the managing editor 
of Life. Mr. John Ames Mitchell was the proprietor 
and editor-in-chief. I produced the paper — ^that is, I 
selected all of the literary material, and from the pic- 
tures that Mr. Mitchell bought from numerous artists, 
made it up. Mr. Mitchell rarely read anything until 
it was set up in type. He used to glance over the 
dummy before it w^t to the printer!^ affair that 
merely showed the arrangement of the drawings in 
the paper. I filled in the spaces between with literary 
matter, and then, when the first page-proofs came back, 
we would go over them carefully together. He made 
few changes, but the little touches he gave were inval- 
uable. That, of course, is what makes a good editor. 
I used to scan the ftiail very closely, looking for new 
material. One day I got a ragged looking manuscript 
from a man named Gillilan. I had never heard of him 
before, and indeed, his name made no impression upon 
me. The manuscript itself was a poem, or if you like, 
a doggerel verse. The title of it was "Oflf Agin, On 
Agin, Gone Agin" as I remember it. 

127 



128 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

I went off my head about the verses at once. If 
you haven't been an editor yourself, you will never 
know the joy of getting something good from a 
stranger. The first impulse is to suppress it. You 
don't want anybody to see it. You want to keep it to 
yourself. This is succeeded by a burning desire to 
spread it everywhere in big type. You cannot wait for 
the paper to be issued. You feel like getting out a 
special edition, with just this thing in it. Then these 
two emotions are likely to be succeeded (after a lapse 
of time) by a sickening sense that, after all, perhaps 
you are mistaken. All these things I felt about Mr. 
Gillilan's verses. The first thing I did was to have 
them set and to place them in the most prominent page 
of Life, which was the second inside page at the top 
of the colimin. When the proofs came up, I took them 
into Mr. Mitchell. He scanned them with his micro- 
scopic eye. When he had turned over the second page 
he stopped and looked at Gillilan's verses. They were 
reasonably long — ^much longer in verse than we usually 
ran. I am almost tempted to repeat them here, but 
they are now so familiar to readers and audiences all 
over the country that it would doubtless be superflu- 
ous. "What's this?" said Mitchell, reading first care- 
lessly and then closely. "Don't you think they are 
great?" I exclaimed, my heart sinking. "Why, yes, 
they are pretty good," he said, "but they are not quite 
in our vein, do you think?" "Does that make any 
difference?" I faltered. He considered a moment 
"No, Masson, perhaps not," he replied. "If you like 
them so much, run them, but put them somewhere 
else." And so I changed them over to the last page 



S. W. GILLILAN 129 

at the bottom of the column. After they came out in 
Life they were copied all over the country and became 
a classic. Mr. Gillilan used them for years in his lec- 
tures, and I presume is doing so yet. I tell this story 
not in any sense to deprecate Mr. Mitchell's judgment. 
The fact is that he was exactly right. It would have 
been a mistake to put the verses, which were entirely 
out of Life's atmosphere, so conspicuously in front. 
He knew, that no matter where they were in Life, 
they would be read. Mr. Gillilan's account of himself 
follows; and I hope he will not mind if I leave the 
postscript in : 

I worked on a farm every summer until I was 
twenty-three. Winters I went to school, eventually 
taught school (after 18) and went to college whenever 
I could get the money. Mother knew by heart all the 
poetry in the world, and Father was Irish. Surround- 
ings gloomy. Humor was the straw to the drowning. 
We had to have it in some form or die in the doldrums. 
When seven years old, began keeping scrapbook of 
jokes and funny stuff written by C. B. Lewis (M. 
Quad), in Detroit Free Press, Clipped everything 
funny I could find, and clung to it as to a life-raft. 
Began trying to be funny. Was silly. Village cut-up. 
Found it out myself. Quit it. Tried to write news 
and humor for papers in Athens and Jackson, Ohio, 
college and home towns. Went into straight newspaper 
work at age of twenty-three — had been writing coun- 
try items and squibs from "Cove Station*' for the 
Jackson Herald, and stuff for the Athens (Ohio) 
Herald — General Charles Grosvenor's paper. Really 
wanted to write dignified and tragic poetry — ^big, high- 
brow "bull" like Milton an' them ! Am still occasion- 



I30 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ally smitten that way. When I went to work on papers 
at Richmond, Indiana, I got the real writing bug. I 
began writing verses for Sunday Indianapolis Journal, 
and prose sketches for the same paper. Prose was all 
deadly serious, home, "genre" stuflf, and poetry mostly 
of the mother-home-and-heaven type. Still like to do 
that — ^natural born emotional evangelist that never 
evangeled, I guess. While in Richmond, wrote "Finni- 
gin,** appearing first as an attempt, in Richmond 
Palladium, and then revamped into different form for 
Life, Never wrote an3rthing else like it or as popular. 
Never will. Glad the idea came to me instead of to one 
of a hundred other fellows who could have done it just 
as well if not better. Preparation for writing was an 
inherited literary instinct from my mother, a love of 
poetry from her, also an inherent hunger for humor, 
bom of poverty and hard work and rather gloomy 
surroundings. I learned from that experience that 
" humor is really one of the serious necessities of life. 
I have also found out that the really funny stuff in 
every generation is the "wisdom" held over from a 
previous one — stuff taken seriously by folks who took 
themselves that way. I learned, a long time ago (and 
it has been my most saving bit of knowledge) "Blessed 
is he who takes himself seriously, for he shall create 
much amusement. ..." Shortly after "Finnigin" 
became a by-word and a label for me, I was coaxed to 
appear publicly and recite it. I had always had a secret 
scared-to-death itch for the platform, and some folk 
at college had really told me I ought to do public enter- 
taining, because I could never take elocution seriously 
or the things that other folk got so worked up about. 
Stress of emotion, simulated in "dramatics," was al- 
ways a scream to me because it was always burlesque. 
I began timidly my public work, always confessing and 



S. W. GILLILAN 131 

intensifying my own ungainliness, and violating pur- 
posely all the tenets of the elocution teachers. The 
public rather liked it, for thus it was individual and 
"different." Then I began saying a little serious thing 
now and then, interspersing the laughs, and found that 
a good way of putting across various sorts of propa- 
ganda intended for the happifying and sanifying of 
mankind. I have kept this up. Since 1897 when 
"Finnigin** appeared, I have talked to several millions 
of people, face to face, and have left nearly all of them 
nearly as happy as they had been, and a few of them a 
tremendous lot happier. I believe I have helped kid a 
little solemn piffle off the earth, and am happy in the 
thought. I firmly believe the ordinary human, goings 
along his pilgrim way, engaged daily in a desperate 
struggle against thinking, ready and willing to die 
rather than to use his mind, accepting all sorts of silly 
old religious formulas and political bunk because they 
are ready-made and save him the necessity of thinking, 
learning a trade because in that way he can bid his mind 
good-by forever — I really think that ordinary average 
human is something alternately to laugh and weep over. 
All people start life with minds, most of them end life 
without any, just because they never take their minds 
out to play or exercise. Many believe they are serious, 
just because they are stupid. ... I have done many 
years of newspaper work, more than ten on Indiana 
papers, one on a Los Angeles paper, five on Baltimore 
papers, and if I had my way about it and could grub 
and garb my tribe on its income, I should still be in 
newspaper work. As it is, I write a little story each 
day for George Matthew Adams, and write steadily 
for ten or twelve periodicals of various classes and 
qualities. I have never had a sorrow that didn't even- 
tually add to my happiness and that of other people; 



132 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

I have never had any misfortune that I didn't cash in 
and help other people with; life has sweetened rather 
than embittered me — ^and while by no means a polly- 
anna idiot, I am, on the whok, far less resentful of the 
fact that I was bom, than I used to be in the deadly 
serious nineteen-year-old days — ^which are the oldest 
days any human passes through though he outlive the 
traditional Methuselah. The only people I hate are 
night hotel-clerks, reformers, and people who say: 
"Here's a new one — and this actually happened." 
Best book to date, "Sunshine and Awkwardness." 

[Tom ! Is this any good? Fm blushing all over the 
place over it, but — ^you wanted me to be rather intimate, 
I take it. If I have left unstressed any point you'd 
like to have stressed, or if you find any lead in the above 
that might have been followed further to your benefit, 
say it, Tom, and I'm on the job. — Strickland 

GiLLILAN.] 



CHAPTER XIII 



MONTAGUE GLASS 



ALTHOUGH he does not mention it in the letter 
he writes to me, which follows later in this ar- 
ticle, I have a strong recollection of reading 
Montague Glass in the New York Sun, in the old days 
when the New York Sun was not only publishing news 
but literature. Certainly those inimitable Jewish 
sketches of his began there. Mr. Glass came after 
"Chimmie Fadden," by Ned Townsend. In those days 
everything good came out of the Sun, and was after- 
wards grabbed by the magazines and publishers. But 
the question we now have to ask ourselves is, "What 
place does Montague Glass occupy in American hu- 
mor?" Is he not more essentially a dramatist than a 
humorist? I should say not, without, however, at- 
tempting to pose as an authority on these matters. 
Indeed, to pose as an authority on anything is much 
too shameless. The fact is that Mr. Glass has made v 
as many, if not more, people laugh genuinely than 
any other man I know. I should not consider him so 
much a dramatist as an interpreter. It is quite diffi- 
cult to define what I mean : nevertheless I shall try. 

Mr. Glass has sympathy, insight, creative ability and ^ 
a most intense sense of humanity. He feels people. 

133 



134 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

He is also intensely impersonal, in the sense of not 
caring, except only as one who cares as an interpreter. 
He is quite free from rancor of any kind : I could not 
imagine his harboring anything. He is not at all like 
anybody you have ever met, because he is so like every- 
body. I should think that if you were cast away 
on a desert island and could exchange, well, say the 
"Encyclopaedia Britannica** that came along with you, 
for a human being, you would call for Glass. I mean 
no reflection upon Mr. Glass in stating this. Nobody 
ever has, or ever will, read the "Encyclopaedia Britan- 
nica," and yet it is the kind of a book that you are al- 
ways thinking of looking into and do not care to part 
with. Mr. Glass has all of the information contained in 
the "Encyclopaedia** and besides this, he has a highly 
developed sense of humor and likes to talk about Max 
Beerbohm. In thinking of him in this way, it is almost 
impossible not to wish to be cast on a desert island 
with him. Besides, in this condition, I am convinced 
that he would be highly useful. I do not know what 
his mechanical abilities are, but let us hope that he 
hasn't any : nbbody who is cast away on a desert island 
should have mechanical ability. That was the flaw in 
Robinson Crusoe: he is so much better when he isn't 
doing anything. 
\ Now as to Mr. Glass, he has brought out the He- 
brew temperament better, much better, than it has ever 
s been brought out before. Before Potash and Perl- 
mutter how many of us really understood the Jew? 
Even Mr. Henry Ford doesn't now, but that b be- 
cause he has never read Mr. Qass. 

But it is something much more than this. Mr. Gfatss 



MONTAGUE GLASS 135 

has gone quite beyond the Jew, and revealed to us 
all that those qualities which appear inherent in him 
are inherent in all of us. What astonishes me most 
about the Jew is that he never can explain himself. 
Undoubtedly the most introspective and imaginative 
htunan being in the world, he has always failed to tell 
us what he is. Mr. Glass interprets him to us accu- 
rately by humor ; not by satire, but by atmosphere. In 
short, Mr. Glass is a reporter. He has reported the^ 
Jews, and we no longer laugh at them, but with them. 

That is no mean achievement. My quarrel with most 
people I meet who think they know something (and 
especially that they know something about America), 
is that they don't take the trouble to read the people 
who do know and who interpret. I have said else- 
where that if one would know the American of the past 
two decades, he must have read "Mr. Dooley" : it is 
equally true that, in what some one has been pleased to 
call this "melting-pot'' of ours, there is an atmosphere, 
largely of cities, that can only be understood when one 
understands the Jewish mind. The Jewish mind is often 
unpleasant. The Jewish manners are often worse — 
they are frequently as bad as the manners of anybody 
else. There is a strain of something in a large pro- 
portion of Jews that nobody likes. It has been Mr. 
Glass's work to show the Jew like the rest of us — ^as a 
creature of God. For a great many generations, I 
should say even as far back as Moses, the Jew has been 
arguing and pleading and protesting that God made 
him, and he could get nobody to believe it. If Henry 
Ford thinks at all (I would not accuse him of it) he 
undoubtedly thinks that God, or somebody, made every- 



1 



\ 



136 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

body elstf but the Jews: perhaps he thinks they were 
duly created and assembled by some previous rival 
merely for the purpose of being made to suffer by 
riding in his cars. I used to dislike the Jews cordially. 
But himior is a singular resolvent. When it is really 
right humor it softens down one's prejudices, gives 
one a sort of community spirit with the rest of the 
world. That is why really good humorists should 
never be allowed to die. Most of them are too clever 
when they are young. Age is a great mellower. By 
the time a real humorist is a hundred or so, he is then, 
or should be, about perfection. As for Mr. Glass, he 
didn't wait to be a hundred. Read what he has writ- 
ten about the Jews, and you will realize that he has 
given to us a new sense of proportion about them. Is 
he a htunorist ? I should say he is. 

I was born in a house called Fern Bank, Cheetham 
Hill Road, Manchester, on July 23, 1877. I am, 
therefore, 45 years old, unless I have made a mistake 
in arithmetic, which I am quite likely to do, for the 
only reason that I am not in business to-day, is that I 
never could add up a column of figures with any degree 
of accuracy. To this fortunate circumstance, therefore, 
I owe my escape from the linen and cotton converting 
trade, in which my father was engaged. His business 
is now being carried on in part by my brothers, and as 
far as I am concerned, they are entirely welcome to it 
My father moved his family to Lawton House, Baguley, 
Cheshire, when I was little more than an infant. Later 
we returned to Fern Bank, and in August, 1890, we 
came to New York. My father had places of business 
in Belfast, New York and Manchester, but as the 



MONTAGUE GLASS 137 

major part of his time was spent in New York, he 
moved his faitiily there so as to be with them for a 
longer period than only a few months out of the year. 
His name was James D. Glass. My mother's name was 
Amelia Marsden Glass. She was the granddaughter of 
the founder of E. Moses & Son of the Minories, E. 
You will remember that in Joseph Vance, Old Joe tells 
Mrs. Vance that young Joe is growing to be a heathen 
and ought to be taught Bible history. 

"Blest if 'ee don't think Moses is Moses's," old Joe 
says, and then goes on to explain to Joey that Moses is 
a character in the Bible and consequently in heaven, but 
that Moses's are Jews and will most certainly go to 
hell. Instead of going to hell, however, Elias Moses 
went to live in Kensington Palace Gardens, W., and 
changed his name to Marsden. His descendants are 
now so merged with the Anglo-Saxon and Norman 
blood, or shall we say bloods, of the British Isles that 
most of them fondly believe they came over with the 
Conqueror. As a matter of fact my ancestors came to 
England from Holland during the Commonwealth and 
settled in Ipswich. I have some old books of prayer 
dated about 1708 in which somebody has scrawled on 
the fly-leaf : "This book belongs to Moses Alexander, 
his book." Underneath it, this statement is contra- 
dicted. "And I say that this book belongs to Alexander 
Alexander, his book." 

These two young men were my remote great uncles. 
Their descendants are living in Kingston, Jamaica. 
In fact, like most Jews, my family is pretty well scat- 
tered over the face of the globe. I have relations in 
Italy, In New Zealand, Australia, and of course in 
England. I had ten brothers and sisters of whom eiie^ht 
survive. I married Mary Caroline Patterson, of Port 
Jervis, New York, and I am a Mayflower descendant in 



1 



138 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

my wife's name, her remote ancestor Edward Doty 
having been ship's carpenter of that overcrowded ves- 
sel. We have one daughter, Elizabeth Mary, nearly 
five years old. We have been married fifteen years. 

My education was received at the hands, at times 
literally, of a succession of Frauleins of whom I re- 
member three, Fraulein Arensburg, Fraulein Wallach 
and Fraulein Pierkowska. Later I went to Miss 
Pearson's select academy for young ladies and children, 
St. Luke's School, all these in England, the College of 
the City of New York, and the Law School of New 
York University. I studied music, off and on, with 
sundry foreigners ; had a flyer at German with an old 
gentleman called Ross, and how he got that good 
Caledonian name, I never found out. I also had French 
lessons of a M. Delacourt, and under compulsion I 
studied Hebrew with an Australian gentleman called 
Samuel Green. I remember him with the utmost affec- 
tion. He was a delightful character, full of good 
stories, patient to a degree, and whenever my mother 
asked him if he had seen me in synagogue the previous 
Saturday, he always said : "Yes." As a matter of fact, 
I spent my Saturday mornings in the Cheetham Free 
Library, principally reading bound back numbers of 
Punch, the Graphic and the Illustrated London News. 
^ It is due to Mr. Green that I possess a smattering 
of Hebrew and a large fund of Jewish humorous 
■ stories. 

I wrote my first story for a school competition in 
England. I didn't win it. The headmaster thought it 
too flippant. I continued to write humorous matter 
and verse for the University Item of New York Uni- 
versity. At about that time, 1895, I began to con- 
tribute to magazines and grew accustomed to receiving 
money for it. My first employment was with a lawyer 



MONTAGUE GLASS 139 

called Augustus C. Fransioli, an Italian Swiss. He 
strongly objected to my writing stories during office 
hours, and I was obliged, therefore, to go up to the 
New York County Register's office ostensibly to ex- 
amine a title, but in fact to work away diligently at a 
short story or an article, in a quiet corner of the old 
Hall of Records in City Hall Park. There, under the 
influence of Mr. Fransioli's clientage, I wrote some 
Italian short stories, notably one called "Papagallo" 
which Current Literature reprinted from Short Stories 
where it originally appeared. The compliment turned 
my head completely. After that I lost all interest in 
the law. Although I stuck to it for a number of years, 
I was a great deal more concerned with the material 
for fiction it provided than in the substantive law 
itself. It was in the Jewish law office with which I 
was associated that I gathered the ingredients for 
Potash & Perlmutter, and for all the characters in the 
plays and stories in which that firm appears. I had 
recently married, — a highly speculative venture, since 
I had taken a young lady of much attractiveness and 
charm from a perfectly good job as a teacher in the 
New York Public School System, where she earned 
more money than I did. It was, therefore, up to me 
to quit writing and set myself seriously to work at 
the law. This I did by ceasing to write during busi- 
ness hours. Instead I wrote at night and in the early 
morning, with the result that my income from my 
writing soon left my income from the law so far 
behind, that I threw up my job and have been writing 
ever since. This occurred in 1909. It was in the early 
part of 1909 that I published my first Potash & Perl- 
mutter story in the Saturday Evening Post, Prior to 
that, in 1907 arid 1908, I had written Potash & Perl- 
mutter stories, which I was obliged to sell to magazines 



I40 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

I who carried so little advertising that the editors were 
willing to take a chance about offending the Jewish 
advertisers they didn't have. The first story was called 
simply Potash & Perlmutter. The first thing I did 
with it was to take it down to the Evening Mail office 
and read it to Frank Adams. Frank is a cousin of 
my brother's wife, and we have been close friends ever 
since he came to New York. Frank enjoyed it hugely. 
So did I, but nobody else did. I took it first to "Pop" 
Taylor of the Associated Sunday Magazines. He 
thought that perhaps it was funny but that there was 
no perhaps about Kuppenheimer, Hart Schaffner & 
Marx and a few other good advertisers canceling their 
advertising if he printed it. All the magazines to 
which I was by that time a fairly regular contributor, 
turned it down. I sold it after some months to the 

I Business Men's Magazine of Detroit, Michigan. It 
promptly went into bankruptcy and I collected about 
fifty cents on the dollar for it. The same magazine 
had also taken another Potash & Perlmutter story 
called "Coralie and Celestine." That too netted me 
only fifty per cent of its purchase price. The first 
Potash & Perlmutter story that I sold to the Saturday 

I Evening Post was called "Taking It Easy." The 

/ second, with which I landed Mr. Lorimer a week 
later, was called "The Arverne Sacque." That one 
made an impression on the Post's readers, and there- 
after I became a regular contributor to its columns. 

Up to 1909, I had been a writer of anything and 
everything that could be sold for a half a cent a word 
up. I wrote musical articles and legal articles. Christ- 
mas, Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, and in fact every 
public holiday, found me ready with an article on 
the significance of the celebration. I wrote verse, 
music and fiction. I worked on legal textbooks. I 



MONTAGUE GLASS 141 

even did a bit of drawing. But after 1909, I wrote 
fiction almost exclusively. 

My association with the theater began with a col- 
laboration upon the first play Potash & Perlmutter. 
My collaborator was the late Charles Klein, who went / 
down with the Lusitania. We started to do it for a 
company called the Authors* Producing Company of 
which the Selwyns and John Cort were the principal 
stockholders. After we had decided on the plot and 
began to write the scenes, Mr. Klein was approached 11 
by some of his Jewish friends, who told him that the | 
play would be offensive to them and induced him to 
abandon it. I was only too glad to let him off. Sub- 
sequently A. H. Woods secured the dramatic rights 
to Potash & Perlmutter, a collection of short stories 
which had been published by Howard Altemus of 
Philadelphia. Mr. Klein and I then worked on the 
play which proved to be so successful. Mr. Klein 
insisted that his name should not appear as part author, 
so that when it was produced, no name appeared on 
the program. This was in 191 3. It has been running 
constantly since. At present it is enjoying a long and 
prosperous run in Berlin, but, in the status of an |] 
enemy alien, I have received no royalties. Mr. Klein's 
name now appears on all programs as co-author. Hadi 
he lived, we would have collaborated on the later plays. ' 
I went to see him off when he sailed on the Lusitania. 
Not ten minutes before the boat left, we bought some 
afternoon papers which contained an account of the 
mysterious bombarding of Dunquerque. It was thought 
that the German fleet had broken through and was in 
the channel en route for the North Atlantic. I asked 
him if he didn't feel a bit uneasy about it. He said that 
he would sail if the entire fleet was stripped for action 
outside of New York harbor. He wanted to see his 



11 



142 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

wife and his young son John whom he had left ih 
London only a few weeks before, and he told me he 
would just as lief drown as die of homesickness* He 
was a gentle, charming little man, with every imagin- 
able good quality of heart and mind. 

I next collaborated with Roy Cooper Megfrue on the 
play "Abe & Mawruss" and, in 1916, I began the 
-series of collaborations with Jules Eckert Goodman, 
resulting in "Business Before Pleasure," "Object 
Matrimony," "Why Worry," "His Honor Sam Davis," 
which after a number of performances out of town, 
was changed into "His Honor Abe Potash." 

There are various methods of collaboration. The 
one I pursued with Mr. Klein I do not recommend. 
We had decided on the plot and some of the scenes 
when Mr. Klein decided not to continue. I therefore 
obtained Mr. Klein's permission to work up the in- 
cidents and plot already decided upon into a story, 
which was published in the Saturday Evening Post 
It was called "Brothers All." Later Mr. Klein wrote 
the first draft of the play in London. It was sent on 
to New York. There I rewrote it, preserving a great 
deal of Mr. Klein's work. The last act is entirely 
mine. I wrote in many new characters and scenes 
and did a whole lot of hard work which would have 
been avoided had Mr. Klein and I collaborated in the 
fashion that Jules Goodman and I now work. We start 
in at nine and knock off at lunchtime. We then 
resume for a couple of hours at about three o'clock 
or so and call it a day. Sometimes he sits at the 
typewriter and I lie on the sofa. At other times our 
positions are reversed. The result is a sure-enough 
collaboration. The collaboration with Mr. Megrue was 
one in which Mr. Megrue matched his experience 
against my labor. Perhaps this arrangement is quite 



MONTAGUE GLASS 143 

fair. At any rate it does not make for cordiality in 
the subsequent relations of the collaborators. 

Collaborating with Jules has been continually a 
pleasure, which I am sure is not going to end for many 
years. We have had two successes, one artistic success 
and one play that the Herald said was a success. I 
have enjoyed writing them all. 

My books are principally collections of short stories. 
There have been two volumes of comments upon the 
war and the Peace Conference put into the mouths of 
Potash & Perlmutter. The whole list is as follows: 

"Potash & Perlmutter," Howard Altemus, Phila- 
delphia, 1 9 10, later published by Doubleday, Page & 
Co. ; "Abe & Mawruss," Doubleday, Page & Co., 191 1 ; 
"Object Matrimony," Doubleday, Page & Co., 191 1; 
"The Competitive Nephew," Doubleday, Page & Co., 
1913; "Elkan Lubliner, American," Doubleday, Page 
& Co., 1912; "Abe & Mawruss, Philosophers," Double- 
day, Page & Co., 191 1 ; "Worrying Won't Win," 
Harpers, 191 7; "Potash & Perlmutter Settle Things," 
Harpers, 191 9. 

How many magazines and newspaper articles I have 
written I cannot now remember, — ^probably many hun- 
dreds, including short stories. I have been a journey- 
man author since about 1895, and the mere lapse of 
time, in spite of a congenital laziness, accounts for 
them. I have also written some one-act plays and I 
wrote a new English version of "La Tierra Allegra," 
or "The Land of Joy," which ran for several months 
in New York and on tour. 

I spend the winters in Pasadena, because of my little 1 
daughter's delicate health. I have a cottage in Lake f 
Placid, where we go for the summer. My city address j 
is 47 Fifth Avenue, the Salmagundi Club. I am a I 
member of this Club, and the Lambs in New York, 



144 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the National Press Club of Washington, the Authors' 
Club of London, and I belong to the usual number of 
professional societies, viz: The Society of Authors 
of London, The Authors League of America, and 
La Societe des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques 
of Paris. I do not play golf and belong to no 
fraternities or fraternal organizations. I am insured in 
the Equitable Life, and play bridge, poker, auction 
pinochle, pool, billiards and the piano. 



CHAPTER XIV 

MISS HERFORD AND THE MONOLOGUE 

THE monologue is a distinct type of humorous 
character delineation which actually, in its dra- 
matic qualities, belongs to the stage, but which 
the genius of Miss Beatrice Herford has transfused 
into a type of humor all its own. Miss Herford has 
a number of imitators, some of whom are extraordi- 
narily good, but no one, I think, approaches her in her 
qualities. 

What is it that she does? 

She reproduces out of our common life a common ^^ 
character with such fidelity to nature, that it is all we 
can do to keep from holding ourselves back from that 
kind of laughter which might — ^although it never does 
—express our real emotions. Therefore we shiver 
with the delight of coming into contact with truth — a 
rare experience, revealing that, after all, the best satire 
is only truth in a thin disguise. Miss Herford not 
only writes her own monologues, but acts them; aii ; 
she does this much better than any one I know. Her 
monologues, thus conceived by her and written with 
painstaking care, have appeared in our leading maga- 
zines and in an occasional book. As a part of our 
humorous literature their subtlety is recognized by all 

145 



146 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

lovers of the best. Perhaps the best description of 
Miss Herford is that written by another highly talented 
Woman, Dorothy Parker, who not long since in 
Everybody's Magazine, wrote of her as follows : 

Certainly, the last place you would ever expect to 
find her is in the midst of a vaudeville show. 

Up to the time of her entrance, things have gone 
along just about as usual. The two young men in 
the conventional jet-buttoned and velvet-collared black, 
with the extra-size silk hats pressing the tops of their 
ears outward, have danced individually and simultane- 
ously, saving for the climax their inebriation specialty 
in which, with hats tilted to one side by way of 
atmosphere, they stagger rhythmically about the stage 
to the overaccented strains of "We Won't Go Home 
Until Morning.'' 

The playlet about the young lady thief who robs 
the house of the prominent judge who turns out to be 
her father has reached its happy conclusion. The 
gentleman in the lavender dinner-coat and the basket- 
weave hat has indulged in a successful flirtation with 
the self-made blonde who trips on from the opposite 
side of the stage, the romance blossoming into several 
songs and dances, and a series of ever-shorter costumes 
for the lady. The individual who so sincerely flatters 
Al Jolson has told a series of loud stories, and has 
rushed back and forth, shaking the house with a song 
about the purely speculative diversions of Mrs. Julius 
Caesar while her husband was away at war. The well- 
dressed black-face comedian has beguiled his hearers 
by addressing elaborately worded insults to the shabbily 
dressed black- faced comedian. 

And the audience has drunk all this in, enraptured. 
As the nature of the entertainment demands, they have 



MISS HERFORD AND THE MONOLOGUE 147 

laughed, or thrilled, or brushed away a tear, or gur- 
glingly repeated the jokes to one another. They have 
applauded at each finale as if they could not bear to let 
the acts out of sight. 

Then comes the time when, according to the program, 
Beatrice Her ford is scheduled to appear. Nothing 
particular is done about it on the stage. There are no 
custom-made velvet curtains, no special orchestra, no 
trick-lighting effects, not even a strip of red carpet 
unrolled for the occasion. The setting is just what- 
ever drop-curtain the management may happen to have 
around the house; possibly a gentleman assisting a 
lady into a swan-encircled gondola is painted upon it, 
or it shows a vast flight of strikingly realistic marble 
stairs, mounting out of sight in admirable perspective. 
Before it stands one small gilt chair, looking pitiably 
alone. The orchestra plays something in which neither 
it nor the audience takes much interest. 

And then Beatrice Herford enters, not dramatically, 
or laughingly, or even whimsically. She just enters. 
She looks as if the thought of appearing in vaude- 
ville were the last thing that would ever come into her 
head. With her softly arranged wavy hair and her 
conservative frock, it seems as though she had just 
been going down to the drawing-room to welcome her 
dinner guests, and had somehow got up upon the stage 
by mistake. She walks casually over, and stands be- 
hind the little gilt chair, just as anybody might. When 
she announces the subject of her first monologue, "The 
Hotel Child,'' perhaps, or "In the Five-and-Ten-Cent 
Store," or "At the Box-Office," her voice is distinct, 
but outside of that it is not so different from other 
people's voices. There is no trace of the booming of 
the professional elocutionist; pronouncing her words 
seems to be an entirely painless operation to hei. 



148 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

For one bad moment you think that they are not 
going to like her. You look nervously around at that 
audience, and your heart sinks. You recall how, not 
five minutes before, they were shrieking with laughter, 
when the well-dressed black-face comedian told his 
ragged partner that he was going to "knock him so 
far that it will cost ten dollars to send him a post- 
card." You recollect how they writhed in agonies of 
mirth when the ragged comedian retorted that he would 
make the first one "run so fast that people would 
see so much of the soles of his shoes they would think 
he was lying down." Things look pretty black for 
that audience; you feel that they will never make the 
grade. 

But once Beatrice Her ford is started on her mono- 
logue, you cease to worry about the audience. You 
are too much occupied with your own affairs. You 
have all that you can do to restrain your whoops of 
laughter, not so much because they might annoy your 
neighbors as because they might prevent your hearing 
some of Miss Herford's succeeding remarks. You 
want to rise and beg her to stop for a minute so that 
you can get all through appreciating one line before she 
goes on to the next. You want to implore her, when 
she reaches the end, to go back and do it all over again, 
in case you might possibly have overlooked something. 
You have plenty to hold your attention to your own 
concerns, and keep your mind off your neighbors. 

When you suddenly do remember, with a guilty 
start, and give a thought to the audience, you find that 
they have been shifting for themselves very nicely 
indeed. They are laughing just as helplessly as you 
are, sitting forward just as eagerly so as not to miss 
anything, applauding for more just as beseechingly. 
Just as you have been doing, they recognize the char- 



MISS HERFORD AND THE MONOLOGUE 149 

acters in the monologues, calling breathlessly to one 
another, "Isn't that just like Aunt Annie ?" or "Haven't 
you heard Cousin Bertha go on that way a hundred 
times?" 

The only one who is not surprised at Beatrice Her- 
ford's success with vaudeville audiences is Beatrice 
Herf ord. When she first considered going into vaude- 
ville, people who had nothing but her interest at heart 
begged her with tears in their eyes to see the light- 
It was for her own good, they sobbed on her shoulder, 
that they felt that they must tell her that, as a vaude- 
ville performer, she would be the sensational failure 
of the age. She might be a great hit in a parlor, they 
conceded, reciting some of those clever little things of 
hers while the chicken salad was being served ; but on 
the variety stage, filling in the space between a troupe 
of trained Bedouins and a dog and monkey circus — 
they all but broke down at the picture. Patiently they 
pointed out that her monologue would glide smoothly 
over the heads of vaudeville patrons. Subtleties slipped 
through the generous gaps in the two-a-day mind. The 
appreciation of the efforts of a seemingly intoxicated 
comedian to lean against the lamp-post painted on the 
back drop was about as far as vaudeville hounds went 
in the line of humor. For her own sake, she ought 
to realize that her place was in the home. 

Buoyed up by their words, Miss Herford signed her 
contract and went on at one of Keith's Theaters. And 
vaudeville audiences ever since have been repaying, in 
applause and laughter, the compliment she paid them by 
her confidence in them. 

It happened all over again when she thought of ap- 
pearing in revue. By that time, ^people had become 
accustomed to her success in vaudeville ; indeed, several 
were letting it be rumored abroad that it was by their 



ISO OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

advice she had gone on the variety stage. But revue 
was markedly something else again, and her mono- 
logues — it wasn't easy for them to say it, but they were 
not ones to let themselves shirk a duty — ^would never 
go over with revue audiences. 

So, after listening attentively to them, Miss Herford 
entered a revue, and history obliged by repeating itself. 
She was the only thing that one can bear to remember 
of "Let's Go," William Rock's production, which, 
shortly after its opening, lived up to its name. Re- 
cently she provided a welcome bit of humor in "What's 
In a Name?" for a season or thereabouts. 

In between times she slips comfortably into vaude- 
ville again. And whenever she can do it, she eludes 
the theater altogether, and she and her husband go up 
to their home way oflF in Massachusetts, where she can 
be as virulently domestic as she yearns to be, cooking 
and darning and dusting, and taking part in all the 
other sports for which that part of the country is 
famous. 

Beatrice Herford's career never had any definite 
starting-point. There never was any one great day 
when she suddenly felt the urge to go out in the world 
and do monologues. She was just bom that way; 
that's all. Just as her clever brother Oliver was bom 
the way that he is. 

It began in England, in Manchester, in so many 
words — where she was born, the daughter of a clergy- 
man. As far back as her memory begins to function, 
she was always pretending that she was somebody 
else. She was not, it is gratifying to report, one of 
those quaint little things that go pallidly about making 
believe that they are Queen of the Snowflakes, or the 
Spirit of the Rosebush, or a little lost Sunbeam, or 
something of that delicate and whimsical nature. The 



MISS HERFORD AND THE MONO{.OGUE 151 

fancies of young Miss Herford were of a more sub- 
stantial nature; she looked on life with the material 
eye of Daisy Ashford. The parts that she allotted 
to herself, in her games of pretending, were nice, fat 
ones. 

She was usually a rich and sought-after woman of 
the world, who had generously dropped in for a visit 
to the simple Herford family. A most unenthusiastic 
sister was coerced into playing the game with her, act- 
ing as a sort of feeder. It was no simple little pastime 
which could be indulged in at a moment's notice when- 
ever nothing more attractive offered ; it involved much 
preparation and many properties, for Beatrice Herford, 
with the thoroughness of a true artist, insisted upon 
a lavish amount of convincing local color. She care- 
fully dressed in her conception of a traveling costume, 
commandeered a bag and umbrella, and arrived impres- 
sively at the front door. With sophisticated polite- 
ness she inquired of the apathetic small sister as to 
the health of her family, and, that over with, got on 
to the really interesting part of the game, an exhaustive 
recital of her doings, concerns and opinions as a wo- 
man of the world. 

It was the birth of her monologues. At that time she 
had not quite caught the idea of sketching, in a few 
words, the characters she was impersonating. The 
game would go on for days at a stretch. From morn- 
ing until night, not exclusive of the necessary time 
spent at the table, young Miss Herford played the part 
of the wealthy visitor; her abundant words were the 
words that would have been spoken by the distinguished 
guest. She lived the part, as the critics would say. 

Then she would suddenly grow tired of being that 
particular rich lady, and would conceive a role for 
herself of an even wealthier and more important per- 



152 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

sonage. After a time, she grew bored with playing only 
society roles, and she began pretending to be certain 
of the people she saw about. Several of these imper- 
sonations she tried out on the family, meeting with 
instantaneous success. She had always liked reciting, 
and almost from the time she could speak at all, her 
father had encouraged her in it, listening attentively 
while she declaimed across the spaces of his study to 
him. He did it for her amusement, first, and for his 
own after a while. 

It was just a step from giving her monologues in 
her own drawing-room to giving them in other people's. 
Then, after a while, she came over and tried them in 
American drawing-rooms. From there, any one can 
go on with the story. 

Miss Herford writes every monologue that she uses. 
She sees potential characters for them everywhere — 
shops, railway stations, employment agencies, street- 
cars, and listens hungrily for them to say something 
that she can use. Unfortunately, they seldom do; 
people aren't like that. The things they say cither 
aren't funny at all, or else they are incredible. Once 
she selects her type she must prayerfully work out the 
logical things for that character to say. Lines that 
are merely funny in themselves are of no use at all; 
they must be the exact lines that the character would 
say under the circumstances in which Miss Herford 
places him or her — it's always her, of course. It means 
that she can't dash off her monologue while humming 
a sprightly tune; they are the result of good, honest 
toil. But it also means that each one is perfect as a 
character study. Which is the difference between 
Beatrice Herford and other monologists. 

Usually the word monologist brings to mind the 
picture of a nervous girl in a white dress, with the 



MISS HERFORD AND THE MONOLOGUE 153 

golden chain of her eye-glasses coiled behind one ear 
and a home-made silk rose tucked behind the other, 
reciting "Miss Hepzibah Sunnybrook's Thoughts on 
the First Robin," and receiving at its conclusion a 
bouquet of wired asters addressed in her mother's hand- 
writing. You know you never think of Beatrice Her- 
ford as a monologist in that sense of the word. She 
manages it, somehow, so that you don't think of her 
at all. She hides behind each of the characters that 
she represents. There isn't any Miss Herford for the 
time being — there is a bored five-and-ten-cent store 
shopgirl, a weary servant-seeker, a friendly shopper 
for theater tickets, an harassed mother taking her 
offspring for a trolley ride, any one of dozens of 
familiar people. 

You meet an old friend in each of her creations. 
Every one in the company she presents may be promptly 
identified as Mrs. Chaney, or Cousin Abbie, or that 
woman in the apartment up-stairs. Sometimes she 
comes even nearer home, and does a portrait of you, 
yourself, and a startling likeness, too. 

The curious thing is that you never recognize your- 
self. You go blissfully on saying, *'Well, if that isn't 
just like that Mrs. What's-her-name, that moved to 
Utica last October — ^the one that had the two little 
boys and the husband in the hardware business !** 



CHAPTER XV 



OLIVER HERFORD 



If this little world to-night 
Suddenly should fall through space 
In a hissing, headlong flight 
Shriveling from off it's face, 
As it falls into the sun, 
In an instant every trace 
Of the little crawling things — 
Ants, philosophers and lice. 
Cattle, cockroaches and kings, 
Beggars, millionaires and mice, 
Men and maggots all as one, 
As it. falls into the sun — 
Who can say but at the same 
Instant from some planet far 
A child may watch us and exclaim : 
"See the pretty shooting star I" 

Years ago Oliver Herford wrote and rewrote this 
verse (as he always does) and it was published in 
Life, Afterwards he used it for the Epilogue of his 
little book, "This Giddy Globe," published a year or 
so ago, and the dedication to which reads: 

TO PRESIDENT WILSON 

(With all his faults he quotes me still) 

154 



OLIVER HERFORD 155 

Probably, indeed, over a considerable period ofv 
time, Oliver Her ford has been, and still is, the most 
quoted man in America. Presidents have come and 
gone, but the things that Her ford has said linger 
on. It would be quite impossible to get together 
in any sort of complete array all of these good 
things. Much of what some witty people say 
lies either in the saying of it or in the immediate 
occasion. This must be true of course of him; but 
doubtless it is less true of him than of the others. A^r 
unique combination of philosopher, wit, poet, and 
artist, he remains practically indefinable. To describe 
him is to commit a kind of sacrilege. Not that he is 
above description ; on the contrary, he is perfectly off- 
hand and agreeably dull and silent when the occasion 
warrants or necessity confronts him. He has a 
Shakespearean sense of words, with which he loves to 
play, as a kitten does with a ball of yarn, raveling it 
and unraveling it. This sensitiveness to sound which, 
in a low mind, would lead to the most violent puns, is, 
in Herford's hands, a medium for the most delicate 
construction and unerring insight. Truly a person of 
most nimble wit and delicate fancy, one who loves 
fairies and bears a kind of innocent and withal won- 
derful contempt for material things; who possesses 
an unerring faculty for selecting the threads of gold 
running through all things, and winding it about so 
that it is seen by those who have eyes. Shy to the last 
degree, shrinking from any kind of that sort of per- 
sonal exploitation so dear to the hearts (and pocket- 
books) of the rest of us, Oliver Her ford is the only 
one of his kind in America. It is really with a sense 



156 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

of genuine guilt that one writes about him at all. His 
remarkable influence over those with whom he comes 
into contact is due to the very qualities that he is sup- 
posed to lack. It has been said of him, and repeated 
so often that he has come to believe it himself, that he 
never keeps engagements. Once at a dinner party, 
the hostess remarked a vacant seat near him. "Yes," 
replied Herford, "if I weren't here I should know that 
seat was mine." 

Yet as a matter of fact, no one is more punctilious. 
The great difficulty with him is that he is never satis- 
fied with what he does. He will do over a drawing 
fourteen or fifteen times to get it right. This sort 
of thing is of course maddening to practical people, and 
especially to printers and editors. After having writ- 
ten a piece of verse, he will reluctantly hand it in. He 
will say : "Now, what do you think of this line? Per- 
haps another word would be better here." He is 
assured that this is the very word. "Do you think so?" 
he will repeat. "I have my doubts." 

Finally the copy is released to the editor. It is 
sent to the printer. The telephone rings. It is Her- 
ford. 

"Could you manage to change that last line ?" 

He repeats the last line. 

"And this is so much better. You must change it 
you know." Money is no object. Perfection is the 
only goal. The agonies that Oliver Herford has suf- 
fered from misprints, and from faulty reproductions 
of ^ his drawings, it would be wrong to dwell upon. 
And his spirit of resignation, in the light of his wise 
maturity ! 



OLIVER HERFORD 157 

Herford draws better than he writes, and writes 
better than he draws. The broad farcical effect is not 
his. He has no sense of the crowd. The thing that 
most men strive so earnestly for — applause — ^he doesn't 
even know about. But he is so S3mipathetic that I think 
he would envy any man almost anything that he would 
not take as a gift for himself. 

Here are three of his epigrams, taken at random 
from my memory. 

"Many are called but few get up." 
"Actresses will happen in the best regulated fami- 
lies." 

"In the midst of life we are in Brookl)m.*' 

The son of an English clergyman and bom in Eng- 
land, he received his education partly in England and 
partly in this country; afterwards he studied in Paris. 
He has written plays, verses (and such verses !) and has 
drawn such inimitable things as send shivers of delight 
over one to look at. Here is a piece of his prose, taken 
from "This Giddy Globe." In fact, it is a whole chap- 
ter. The book itself can easily be read through in half 
an hour, yet it contains practically all that is known 
about this world. 

The Giddy Globe 

Men of science, who delight in applying harsh terms 
to things that cannot talk back, have called this Giddy 
Globe an Oblate Spheroid. 

Francis Bacon called it a Bubble; Shakespeare an 
oyster ; Rosetti, a Midge ; and W. S. Gilbert refers to 
it familiarly as a Ball 



IS8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Roll on thou ball, roll on ! 
Through pathless realms of space, 

Roll on! 
What though I'm in sorry case? 
What though I cannot meet my bills ? 
What though I suffer toothache's ills? 
What though I swallow countless pills? 

Never you mind 

Roll on ! 

But these people belong to a privileged class that is 
encouraged (even paid) to distort the language, and 
they must not be taken too literally. 

The Giddy Globe is really quite larg^ not to say 
obese. 

Her waist measurement is no less than twenty-five 
thousand miles. In the hope of reducing it, the earth 
takes unceasing and violent exercise, but though she 
spins around on one toe at the rate of a thousand 
miles an hour every day, and round the sun once a 
year, she does not succeed in taking off a single mile 
or keeping even comfortably warm all over. 

No wonder the globe is giddy ! 

Questions 

Explain the Nebular Hypothesis. 

State briefly the electromagnetical constituents of 
the Aurora Borealis, and explain their relation to the 
Hertzian Waves. 

Define the difference between the Hertzian Wave 
and the Marcel Wave. 

The story of Herford's that ex-President Wilson 
quoted so often — indeed, I believe it was the only story 



OLIVER HERFORD 159 

that he quoted in his speeches — runs something to 
the effect that one man met another and said to 
him: 

"Do you remember me?" 

The other man replied: "I can't remember your 
name or face, but your manner is very familiar." 

Another story told by Herford relates to a lady who 
persisted in asking him to her house. She asked him 
first to come on Monday. 

"Impossible," said Herford. 

Then make it Tuesday," said the lady. 

^No," replied Herford, "I really cannot come on 
Tuesday." 

"How about Wednesday?" 

"I am sorry but I have something important on hand 
Wednesday." 

"Then come Thursday." 

"Oh, well, make it Monday." 






There are several stories of Herford's that I am 
aching to tell in this chapter, but he will not let me do 
so. They are perfectly proper, of course, but he does 
not like to hurt people's feelings, and he thought the 
retelling of these stories might. As a matter of fact, 
there is absolutely nothing in them that ought not to be 
told, and I am convinced that if they were told they 
would do much good; yet he is obdurate. That is 
what embarrasses me, because, as Herford remarked 
to me recently, one may remain silent all the evening 
in company if one has something that one wishes to 
say and doesn't feel that it ought to be said. There 
are so many things of a delicious nature about him that 



"] 



i6o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

I recall, it does seem a shame that I cannot now put 
everything in. I remember just here his story about 
meeting in Boston — just as he was about to sail for 
Europe — ^John Ames Mitchell, the one-time editor of 
Life. 

"What are you doing in Boston?" asked Mitchell. 

"I am about to sail for Europe," replied Her- 
ford. 

'But why do it from Boston?" 
'Because it is so much easier to sail away from 
Boston than anywhere else in America," said Herford. 
Mitchell was so much amused with this reply that he 
asked Herford to write it out, and I believe it was after- 
wards published in Life, 

It should be understood that the kind of repartee 
that is peculiar to Oliver Herford is impossible to 
translate into words. Merely to repeat a saying of 
his and see it later in cold type is to destroy almost 
the whole effect. 

Once, trying to persuade him to play golf or croquet, 
of which he had his choice, he said: ''I take all my 
exercise in a rocking-chair." And upon my asking 
him, after he had stopped smoking, if he had really kept 
his resolve, he said, "I am obliged to smoke occasion- 
ally so that I will not fall into the habit of not smok- 
mg. 

I have tried to analyze the difference between 
Whistler and Oliver Herford, and think it lies largely 
in the fact that Whistler delighted to hurt people, and 
Herford is gentleness itself. Apparently he has only 
one dread — ^that of being bored, and all of his preju- 
dices and emotions that might otherwise be personal 



OLIVER HERFORD i6i 

have gone into that channel. Nothing could induce 
him to go to a public banquet, which I should say he 
regards as a kind of saturnalia of vulgarity. To him 
publicity of any sort, other than the publicity of his 
ideas is, in a sense, a shocking affair. I once showed 
him a publisher's circular where it was proposed to 
have an entire "week** devoted to a popular author. It 
appealed to me as being a grand idea, and the audacity 
and blatant vulgarity of the affair delighted me, as an 
example of the methods resorted to by the American 
advertiser. Herford snorted with rage. Words utterly 
failed him to express his emotions. 

I can remember him as far back as I can remember 
anything that is good and wholesome and witty. He 
did chance things for Life in the nineties, and some 
years later on, when George Harvey was running 
Harper's Weekly — ^and afterwards, when Norman 
Hapgood was its editor — ^he was attached to that jour- 
nal as its chief cartoonist. It is very seldom that a man 
has talents in both directions — ^that of art and litera- 
ture; or perhaps I should say that where he has it in 
both, both are like to suffer. In Herford's case the 
union of the two seems essential in order to complete 
his idea. His drawing of Queen Victoria would hardly 
have been complete without the verses underneath it. 
Herford, without doubt, is the greatest wit and the 
most vicarious editor in America. 



CHAPTER XVI 



KIN HUBBARD 



I WAS born at Bellefontaine, Ohio, and attended 
local schools; learned the art preservative in my 
father's newspaper office. In 1891 I took a place 
on the Indianapolis News as a caricaturist, develop- 
ing a little natural ability along that line after accepting 
the place. With the exception of a brief tryout on 
the old Cincinnati Tribune I have been a member of 
the Indianapolis News staff all of these years. Almost 
seventeen years ago I created the character, Abe 
' Martin, who is supposed to be a small town philosopher 
in Brown County, a wild, hilly county without tele- 
graph or railroad, in the southern part of this state. 
Every day, except Sundays, for seventeen years I have 
written a single paragraph dealing with two unrelated 
subjects to set beneath a picture of Abe Martin, and 
each day the picture has shown the same old character 
in a new pose and a different background. This little 
feature has been syndicated for about eleven years. 
To-day it appears in about 195 American and Canadian 
newspapers. For eight or nine years I have contrib- 
uted a weekly essay to the News. This feature appears 
under the caption of "Short Furrows." The essays 
have been syndicated for seven years. "Abe Martin's 

162 



KIN HUBBARD 163 

Sayings'' have been published in book form each No- 
vember for sixteen years. To my notion the best 
thing I ever wrote was the biography of a fellow who 
took up the cornet so many different times during his 
life, hoping to master it and devote himself to it, and 
who finally died in th' radiator repair business. Of all 
the thousands of paragraphs I have written the two that 
seem to have had the greatest appeal to vaudeville per- 
formers are these: 

"Th' first thing t' turn green in th' spring is Christ- 
mus jewelry." 

"Women are jest like elephants t' me, I like t' look 
at 'em, but I wouldn' want one." 



CHAPTER XVII 



WALLACE IRWIN 



I HAD Started to write something in this hock 
about Wallace Irwin, and in trying to get together 
the facts I was in despair because there were none; 
at least there was nothing but a series of adventures 
and interviews I had had with him, and out of this 
there was only an impression ; a very strong impression 
it is true, but nothing to write down in a sober book 
about humorists. The only concrete thing I could 
recall at the time was what Mark Twain once wrote 
about Irwin's "Togo," and even the text of this had 
slipped me. But I knew it was very favorable and I 
recalled that Mr. Clemens had declared that the Togo 
letters were quite the best thing he had seen in Amer- 
ican humorous literature. And while I was thinking 
of all this and wondering what to do, lo and behold; 
Irwin suddenly appeared, and I got him to write what 
follows about himself. 

There was some difficulty in persuading him of the 
importance of doing this; not that his modesty is of 
that false kind that makes a pretense of not wanting 
to be talking about oneself when it is essential thai 
one should, but only that he could not come to see 
himself in quite the right perspective, or at least that* 

164 



WALLACE IRWIN 165 

having become immersed in family cares, he was re- 
luctant to break loose from the thoughts of others to 
himself. At any rate, we debated for some time as 
to the thing that he should write, and thereupon a few 
days later he sent me what follows. 

But before I come to it I want myself to say a few 
words about Wallace Irwin, and after he has had his 
say about himself, I shall go back briefly to what he 
has written, merely to wind up this chapter. 

I recall now quite vividly Lincoln Steffens coming 
into my office one day, and the talk we got into about 
getting on in literature. It was quite a practical talk, 
just as one might talk about one's method of playing 
parcheesi, or any game that requires a moderate degree 
of attainments. Steffens said that the trouble with 
most young writers was that they were afraid ; that is, 
they became attached to one thing and didn't dare 
quit, whereas the very life of a writer depended upon 
his continually cutting loose. And then he told me 
about Wallace Irwin. Wallace, some time after his 
birth and his being got out of college (in the manner 
he mentions in his story), came on to New York. He 
says also (as you will read a little later) that he sold 
his first verse to Life. I dimly remember reading it 
and liking it, but I can recall nothing more than this. 
But, at any rate, he secured a job on a New York 
evening paper. His daily stint was to write a poem 
a day, and for this effort he received the magnificent 
stipend of $25 a week. His verses were good and 
attracted wide attention — among others that of Stef- 
fens. Now anybody who knows Lincoln Steffens 
knows that he is always helping other people, and so, 



i66 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

as he told me, he dropped in one day on Irwin and 
asked him why he did that sort of thing; why he didn't 
write for other papers. 

"I wouldn't dare give this up," replied Irwin. "It's 
a steady thing; my God, what would I do without it?'* 

Thereupon Steflens saw the proprietor of the paper 
and got him to fire Irwin. 

"He'll never get anywhere imless you fire him," he 
declared. So Irwin, having to sink or swim, was forced 
into prominence and affluence by the Man that Knew. 

Here follows his story: 

Mainly About Myself 

In my infancy there was always some one to inform 
me that Opportunity — quite unlike the prevalent in- 
come tax — ^arrives but once to any man. Opportunity, 
according to my sage advisers, consisted in meeting 
great men, and in improving one's mind by their com- 
pany and example. 

In those days we were living in Leadville, Colorado, 
a mining camp that pinned its faith on free silver 
and lived up to its reputation of being the highest 
incorporated town in America— or was it the world? 
We dwelt in an atmosphere of rarefied ideals, but suf- 
fered from a chronic shortage of fresh fruit, drinking 
water, and f kmous men. All of these commodities had 
to be hauled over a rocky spur of the D. & R. G. ; 
hence, came seldom and expensive. Celebrities espe- 
cially were rare ; hence, at a premium. 

I went to public school when I was six, and my 
earliest memory of that environment was of a large, 
greenish gentleman — I think he was somebody on the 
board of education — ^who used to stand on the platform 



WALLACE IRWIN 167 

Friday afternoons and chant in a Welsh accent under 
his black horseshoe mustache : 

"I live to tell their story 

Who labored for my sake, 
To em-u-late their glory 

And follow in their wake. 
Bards, geniuses and sages, 
The noble of all ages 
Whose deeds fill History's pages 

And Time's great volume make." 

Therefore it was pretty generally agreed that I 
should get busy, pick out a genius to emulate, and 
emulate to the best of my ability. 

As though to further my ambitious scheme, General 
Grant came to Leadville, Colorado, bent on one of those 
tag-and-follow-me excursions known as ex-Presidential 
Tours. The sojourn of the much-wandering Ulysses 
in Leadville was of such brief duration that a local 
paragrapher was quite justified in his quip, "General 
Grand has come and gone — principally gone." But, 
while he was in town, my father saw in the great 
soldier a chance for my advancement in the study of 
emulation. 

My memory of the occasion is, necessarily, vague. 
The mountain streets were dim with early twilight; 
the I. O. O. F. band was playing; a carriage came 
lurching around a slushy corner, and everybody set 
up a cheer. 

"There's General Grant !" exclaimed my father, hold- 
ing me high in his arms. 

Entranced, I beheld the majesty of a silk hat and 
the perfect poise of one who sat his kingly, elevated 
seat just behind two spanking grays. If I were a 



i68 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

general, thought I, just such a prominence would I 
occupy, only the seat and the hat would be at least 
two inches taller than those the hero of Appomattox 
affected. 

The carriage stopped. Many hands were reached 
out to clasp the hand that had clasped the sword of 
Lee. 

"And what a nice little boy !" I heard a kindly voice 
exclaim. 

"He's pretty fine," agreed my father, "but you 
ought to see Bill. Shake hands with the General, 
Wallie." 

I reached up and tried to shake hands with the 
General, upon whom my eyes had been fixed, but when 
I had twined my fingers with those of the high-throned 
gentleman in the silk hat I received, I thought, rather 
a poor response. The crowd uttered a deep-throated 
mountain yell. The carriage moved on. 

It was only next day that I learned the truth. I had 
shaken hands with the coachman. 

It was during the same year and in the same town 
that I made my first stage appearance in the companj 
of William Gillette. Mr. Gillette, should he happen 
to read this article, will be surprised, but the state- 
ment is too literally true. He was touring in "The 
Private Secretary" — I am sure of this play, because 
the other one I saw in Leadville was the "Black 
Crook." 

I don't remember much about the plot, further than 
an impression, which I still cherish, to the effect that 
"The Private Secretary" was the funniest play ever 
written. The art of Gillette was then, as now, satis- 
fying ; but it was the work of that brilliant child actor, 
Wallace Irwin, that most deeply interested mc. 
Vaguely I recall that Mr. Gillette, in his farce, was a 



WALLACE IRWIN 169 

very comic English curate whose wife and eleven 
children had an embarrassing habit of showing up at 
romantic crises in his life. 

Well, the Irwins, as a family, went to the show. 
The second act was delayed and, had I been a few 
years older, I should have realized that something had 
gone wrong with the properties. • I well recall the 
stage manager coming down the aisle and whispering 
to my father in the cool, impersonal manner peculiar 
to slave dealers of all time, "Dave, the infant prodigy's 
down with measles. WeVe got to have a baby in the 
third act or the show's cold. Will you loan me yours ?" 
Meaning me. 

Possibly I was consulted in the matter; but what I 
said was of small consequence in the ensuing move- 
ment during which I was smuggled down a dark alley 
and into a giant's cave where tier on tier of painted 
canvas partitions loomed from a cobwebby zenith to a 
grimy nadir and made me feel like the smallest boy 
that ever walked into a nightmare. 

In a patch of brilliant light beyond I could see 
people with beautifully decorated faces walking about 
and saying witty things in loud, unnatural voices. It 
dawned upon me that I was seeing the play wrong 
end to. I asked my mother about it, but she said, 
"Hush!" Then a very tall, very thin gentleman in 
the raiment proper to a minister of the gospel came 
up to our family group, pinched my cheeks and 
whispered, "Yes, he'll do very nicely, just as he is. 
Thank you, Mrs. Irwin." 

A moment later, when I saw the clerical gentleman, 
coat tails flying, capering across the stage, I was sure 
he was the funniest man in the world. My screams 
of delight were properly hushed, with the caution that 
I was disturbing Mr. Gillette. An artistic ecstasy 



170 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

filled my veins, made me wild to dash behind the gassy 
footlights and share the honors. I was told that it 
would not be my turn until next act. Such are the 
disappointments that wait upon genius. 

In the chaos between acts ten larger children were 
lined up and I, the smallest, stood at the end of the 
row. They ranged in size like the pipes of an organ, 
from big double-bass to little vox humana. We were 
told to await the signal, then to file on the stage and 
stand, pipe-organ fashion, just as we stood in that 
brief rehearsal. 

So at last the procession of stage children filed on 
as per cue amidst the appreciative guffaws of a Lead- 
ville audience. A nice lady passed down the line and 
wiped our noses, which graduated in size from the 
big boy's at the other end down to mine. The lady 
pinched my nose slightly and whispered, "Don't stand 
so far out, dear." Then Mr. Gillette came in and had 
a distressing scene with the nice lady, who turned 
out to be his wife — in the play — ^and proved ever so 
stubborn when he begged her to take us away and not 
disgrace him before his friends. A great confusion 
ensued. There was much running back and forth and, 
from the heartless audience, much ribald laughter. 

In the general stage panic I turned around, and was 
stiff with fright to see that the other ten children were 
being led off the stage. I, also, sought to flee, but 
kind, firm hands restrained me. I looked up and saw 
that it was Mr. Gillette, who had taken me on his 
knee. It was rather a thin knee and I began to 
struggle, filled with the hysterical conviction that the 
act had gone far enough. As I look back adown the 
years I think of that moment and S3mipathize with the 
distinguished actor whose duty it was to hold a 
struggling little fat boy under one arm and with the 



WALLACE IRWIN 171 

)ther to deliver gestures appropriate to his truly comic 
ines. 

"I say, little man/' he managed to whisper at last,, 
"what's wrong?" 

**I wanna get down!" 

"You'll be down in a moment. Try to sit stilL 
What's your name, my boy?" 

"Wallace Irwin. Aiid I wanna get down 1" 

This last speech in a clear, loud voice, audible to 
the very back seats of Leadville's leading playhouse. 

At that instant one of the actors addressed to Mr. 
Gillette a speech which called for immediate reply. It 
was necessary for the author-star to raise both his 
hands in an expressive gesture. I saw my chance and 
slipped eel-like off his knee. I caught a glimpse of my 
mother's frightened face somewhere in the wings. 
There safety lay. Brisk as a squirrel off the stage,, 
tripping up the soubrette in my headlong flight. I 
managed to get myself tangled in the scenery and was 
finally removed by a stage hand. 

Fifteen minutes after this exit my family went into 
conference and decided to retire me to private life. 

One quick and rosy path to prominence, they tell 
me, is the way of public speechmaking. There are two 
reasons why I never make a public speech: I hate 
to, and I am never asked. 

But, stay ! I was asked once. And since the episode 
illustrates several points in this wandering confession, 
let me tell it* to the end. 

It was several years ago, and the publishers of 
America were planning a great dinner to entertain 
the authors of America at the New Willard HoteU 
Washington. A doomful letter came to me one morn- 
ing requesting me to appear at the speakers' table and 



172 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

deliver a few choice remarks. For a month after that 
I lived under a drizzle of cold perspiration. Libraries 
were searched for appropriate thoughts, reams were 
written, committed to my poor memory, forgotten, 
destroyed. At last I decided on something slightly 
jocular, not too personal, nimbly evasive. Those were 
before the days when I rose, or fell, to a fiction-writer's 
estate; I bore the brand "Humorist" seared upon my 
forehead and never managed to grow my hair so as to 
conceal the damned spot. 

So I wrote a speech which I thought would do. This 
I had typewritten on a series of small cards, my 
idea being that I could hide it in the pahn of my 
liand. 

The day came and I went down to Washington 
supported by two as able comforters as ever padded 
Job in his day of soreness. James Montgomery Flagg, 
the famous illustrator, guarded my right hand and 
sought to divert me by means of horrifying sketches, 
representing somebody who looked like me dying of 
fright at a long banquet table. Julian Street — ^who, 
judged alone by the mileage consumed in compiling 
data for his eminent volumes on the quaint inhabitants 
of North America, might be called the "Longest 
Street'' and certainly one of the most amusing in the 
world — ^bounded me on the left. 

I was surrounded. Flagg and Street held upon me 
the wary eyes of secret service guards. 

I was not permitted to approach an open window. 
By the time the train had reached Washington my 
keepers had read over my speech and succeeded in 
agreeing on only one point : it was all wrong. Street 
held that it was too broad, Flagg that it was too narrow. 
Street declared the thought imperfect, Flagg contested 
that the thought was all right, but stuck to it that it 



WALLACE IRWIN 173 

was entirely lacking in local cracks. As soon as I 
reached the New Willard I hunted up a stenographer 
and sat until dressing time dictating a new speech. I 
had it typed on larger sheets, because the kind-hearted 
typist assured me that I could hide it inside my menu 
card. She had seen President Taft do the same 
thing. 

A reception was being held outside the banquet hall. 
The dinner was late. In the very center of the carpet 
stood Hon. Joseph G. Cannon, shaking hands at a 
furious rate and saying the very things that Uncle 
Joseph would say to a magazine writer when dinner 
is late and his feet were beginning to hurt him. Pres- 
ently a distinguished novelist approached me and said 
in the most matter-of-fact tone : 

"Old man, how would you like to meet Joseph G. 
Cannon?'' 

I had never thought the matter over, but since he 
mentioned it I could find no objections. Therefore I 
was incorporated into the line, forming from left to 
right, and after a patient interval I found myself 
within easy radius of the twinkling eyes and witty 
chin-beard which have furnished pepper for a genera- 
tion of congressmen. 

"Mr. Cannon," said my friend in the easy voice of 
one familiar with the habits of the great, "I want you 
to meet Mr. Wallace Irwin, harbor commissioner of 
Honolulu." 

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Irwin," declared the 
National Uncle. "Fine place, the Islands. Fine, fine." 

Whereupon he relinquished my hand for the next 
glad clasp. But my friend the novelist had been a 
humorist in his struggling days; therefore he per- 
suaded me to take my place again in the line. 

"This time we'll meet him right," he said. There- 



174 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

fore, when we had advanced to within shaking distance, 
he again introduced me: 

"Mr. Cannon, permit me to present to you Mr. 
Wallace Irwin, president of the Cheeseborough Na- 
tional Bank." 

"Glad to know you, Mr. " He hesitated for the 

name, and when it was supplied he added, "Great work 
the bankers can do these days." 

And I went my way. 

The dinner was unusually late. During my fam- 
ished wandering from door to door, again the novelist 
got me by the arm and swung me arotmd the circle 
toward the great Speaker's busy hand. 

"Mr. Cannon," he said this time, "I want you to 
meet Mr. Wallace Irwin, collector of the port of 
Guam." 

The crowd was thinning by now, and Mr. Cannon 
had more time to consider my case. 

"Glad to know you," he began; then, retaining my 
fingers in an unescapable clasp: "Say, young man, 
I don't know who and what you are. But I'll say 
this, you've got enough alibis to be a regular politician." 

This should have been the end of my adventure, 
but it wasn't. I still had that awful speech folded 
in my inside pocket. The fatal dining-room doors 
opened at last. As I was going in I asked Julian Street, 
in passing, "Am I pale?" "All but your lips," he 
whispered consolingly. "They're bright blue." 

It was the longest banquet table in the history of 
conversation. I sat at one end and Sam Bl3rthe — who 
has made most of the public speeches I want to make — 
sat beside me. 

"What are you doing with that essay?" he asked 
as soon as I strove to conceal my speech inside my 
menu. 






WALLACE IRWIN 173 

"My speech," I gasped, moistening my cerulean lips 
with a little ice water. 

"Oh," said Sam, who, being a kind soul, never will- 
fully hurt a fellow man. 

Later in the evening he turned and inquired, "What's 
that machine under the table?" 

"My knees," I explained. 

"I thought the table was over a dynamo or some- 
thing," he said. 

"What's the best way to begin a speech?" I at 
last found voice to inquire. 

I usually wait till Fm called on," he advised, 
then I get up and talk." 

I tried to keep his advice in mind. 

F. Hopkinson Smith was, of course, toastmaster. 
The song birds of the Publishers' Association were 
warned that their time would come as soon as the 
official guests had finished. The official guests included 
President Taft, Hon. Joseph G. Cannon, several 
senators and the Mexican Ambassador. After a period 
of expensive malnutrition the speechmaking began. 
A great deal was said, I suppose; but I sat listening 
to the voice of my inner self. I would have torn up 
the typewritten pile, but the tremor of my fingers pre- 
vented me. Dimly in the audience I could see the 
great sad eyes of Julian Street. They were trying 
to convey some sort of helpful intelligence. Either 
they were advising me to go while the going was good 
or to brace up and take it standing. The President 
of the United States had a great deal to say, as was 
his right. The Speaker of the House had more. I 
sat in a horrid torpor, the electric chair yawning for 
its prey. 

During the course of the evening I managed to steal 
over to F. Hopkinson Smith's chair and tremblingly 



176 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

to plead that my speech come first among the publishers* 
speakers. 

"After the Mexican Ambassador finishes I'll call 
on you," he conceded. "He'll only say three words 
and sit down." 

I resumed my seat, which had got hard and cold 
in my absence. Life with its short pleasures and long 
pains swam before me. Something told me it was 
getting late. Sam Blythe informed me that the last 
senator had taken an hour and thirteen minutes. 
Finally out of the blur I heard the voice of F. Hopkin- 
son Smith announcing the Mexican Ambassador. 
Words of doom for me. I tried to pick up my 
manuscript. Several pages of it, I found, had spilled 
under the table and skidded beneath the feet of nation- 
wide celebrities. Even as the Mexican Ambassador 
arose, I was down on my hands and knees trying to 
collect my scattered thoughts. , 

Then occurred the unexpected reprieve. The Man 
from Mexico, it seemed, was not going to be content 
with the three promised words. Something in the 
international relations incensed or delighted him — 
nobody knew which, because the gentleman spoke in a 
Latin-American English which was a m)rstery to all 
but himself. He went on and on. He quoted from 
the little known Spanish poet, Ambroso del Todos los 
Toros. He complimented the American magazines 
and had a good word to say for each and every one of 
them. Which was remarkable in itself. At last his 
throat i^owed signs of giving out. He paused. Mr. 
Smith glanced my way. I was icy cold from the waist 
down. I saw the manuscript lying before me at page 
II. The rest had vanished. My lips had grown dry 
and hard as a cow's horn. The Mexican Ainbassador 
sat down amidst a torrent of congratulations. 



WALLACE IRWIN 177 

**Mr. Wallace Irwin comes next on our program," 
proclaimed the toastmaster in ringing tones, "but, due 
to the lateness of the hour — it is now seven minutes 
past one — we must forgo the pleasure of listening 
to any more speeches." 

After the banquet broke up I shook myself back 

into life and sought out the Mexican Ambassador and 

j^ took him warmly by the hand. Tears were in my eyes 

'^i as, almost hysterically, I thanked him again and again. 

; He didn't know who I was nor what I was blessing 

him for — ^but by every nerve within my shattered 

system, I knew, I knew! 

And the moral of my tale is this: If you are an 
^ author, remember that success lies hidden in the pad 
of paper on the blotter on the shelf of your writing 
desk. Your battle lies at that desk, struggling with 
all your might to put your heart and soul on the 
surface of white paper. Outside of that you may be 
an international tennis champion or an expert safe- 
breaker. That will not make you any better writer, 
but it may make you a more famous one. 

For my part I was born to blush unseen in the 
small but not unknown town of Oneida, New York. 
It was on the morning of March 15, 1876, that I first 
saw the light, and my advent was a great encourage- 
ment to my father, no doubt, because it was less than 
four years later that he decided that the perils of the 
Wild West were preferable to slow starvation in 
Upper New York State. Therefore the Irwins, accom- 
panied by their infant sons, William and Wallace, 
struck boldly out for Leadville, Colorado, a silver- 
camp situated several miles in the air among the 
Rocky Mountains. 

Only a sunny disposition and maternal care saved 
me from becoming a Wild West writer, for the Irwins 



178 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

subsisted on local color for several years. Between 
my ninth and fourteenth years I lived on a broncho 
and learned to read Elizabethan poetry from the 
saddle. In my sixteenth year, when our establishment 
was moved to Denver, I could quote pages of Shake- 
spearean verse, which I spelled with more originality 
than even the Bard of Avon could achieve. I gradu- 
ated from the West Denver High School in 1895 and 
went to college after a post-graduate year among 
assayers and deputy sheriffs in Cripple Creek. 

I graduated from Leland Stanford a year ahead of 
my class — ^by special request of the faculty. From 
this to newspaper poetry was an easy step, and I 
earned a sparse livelihood writing rhymed headlines 
for the San Francisco Examiner. Contributory to my 
training as a humorist, I was morgue reporter for a 
time, then Chinatown reporter — ^and in the latter 
capacity I saw and learned more of Asiatic life than 
«ver went into the daily print. 

A famous magazine editor came to San Francisco— 
that was in the early days of the century — and I was 
stunned by an invitation to meet him at luncheon. 
Shortly before that I had written "The Love Sonnets 
of a Hoodlum," which gained for me the passing 
notoriety which, no doubt, inspired the invitation. 
Half blind with glamour I basked in the presence of 
the great man through six laborious courses, and upon 
the arrival of coffee I gained his attention. 

"What are the chances for a man like me in the 
East?'' I managed to ask. 

"Immense!" cried the great man, who was an 
enthusiast. "You're the type we're looking for, Irwin. 
Don't waste your talents out here. And when you 
come to New York see me at once." 

I followed him two weeks later. I had nothing to 



WALLACE IRWIN 179 

show, save a broken typewriter and a great eagerness. 
I engaged rooms in the least expensive of the slums, 
and upon the very day of my arrival, attacked my 
tjrpewriter with a frenzied determination to keep ahead 
of the rent. Love, politics, domestic problems, holiday 
humor — I choked the mails with rhymed manuscripts 
which came back with such regularity that the branch 
post office knew my address by heart before the month 
was over. 

Then, one drizzly morning, I bethought me of the 
celebrated editor who, under the influence of San 
Francisco fog, had stamped me as the type he was 
looking for. Then and there I determined to sell 
myself into bondage to his famous magazine. 

I called at his office. He was in. 

"How are you, Irwin !'* he cried rapturously. "Have 
a seat. Try one of these cigars. Been in town long? 
Why didn't you let me know? Not trying to raise 
your children in town, I hope." 

"I haven't any children,*' said I meekly. 

"Well," he snapped, "take 'em out into the country. 
Town's no place for children." 

I waited. 

"Look here, Irwin," he demanded, coming suddenly 
out of the silence, "how would you like to go to 
Russia for us?" 

"How would I like " I could have kissed the 

royal hand. 

"Well, come round next Wednesday at 11:30 and 
we'll talk it over." 

I glided through air out of the office and into the 
elevator. To think of it! In New York less than 
a month and already a successful foreign correspondent, 
practically. 

On Wednesday I was in his office at 1 1 :2g. He 



it 



i8o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

was there to receive me. He was obviously nervous 
about something. 

Oh. Hello, Irwin!" he cried, seeing me at last. 
Been in town long? A month.? Well, why didn't 
you look us up? Bring your children? Don't try to 
raise your children in New York . , ." 

It was still forenoon when I returned to my in- 
expensive slum, uncovered my t5T)ewriter and went 
back to my thankless task of providing verse for a 
world which will always prefer prose. 

I sold my first verse to Life. It was a rh3mie about 
Abdul Hamid and the illustrator, as often happens, 
lost the manuscript. That was no trouble for me, as 
I knew it by heart. I became a daily rh)miester for 
the Globe and from there went on the staff of Collier's 
Weekly where I began with a series of metrical 
satires, usually abusive, directed at the heads of public 
characters. 

There I invented "The Letters of a Japanese School- 
boy," the dialect being founded on actual letters written 
to me by Japanese while I was a college student. 
The first of the Togo articles was written as an ex- 
periment, its inspiration being an attack upon Japanese 
coolies in British Columbia. They became a weekly 
feature after that, and for six months or so the public 
was allowed to believe that Hashimura Togo was a 
real Japanese. 

I attempted fiction rather late, although I carried 
around with me an invertebrate short story — some- 
thing about a comic Mexican bull fight — and only 
managed to dispose of it after it had undergone many 
deaths and as many rebirths. My first short stories 
appeared in McClure's about 1913. My first novel was 
"Venus in the East" and was published in the Satur^ 
day Evening Post. 



WALLACE IRWIN i8i 

The rest of my life, as we might say, is fiction. 
Or, in so far as I am a fact, I am a mild-mannered 
bourgeois of forty-six, undustrious, sedentary, of 
medium height, a hater of rice and Sir Walter Scott. 
I love my wife and should be taking up golf, but I 
have a Complex to the eflfect that, should I be dis- 
covered swinging a mashie, somebody will be saying, 
"It's good for a man of his age. We knew he'd come 
to it sooner or later." 

p. S. BY T. L. M. 

It chanced that I was present at the dinner to which 
Irwin refers, and I can vouch for the truth of his ac- 
count in every particular. He has written nothing more 
humorous — or so it appears to me. 

His advice about oratory should not be taken too 
literally however. It is possible to be a good writer 
and also a good speaker. Mr. Irvin Cobb is both, and 
so is Mr. Simeon Ford. And then Irwin is much better 
on his feet than he would like to admit. Most humor- 
ists are. 



CHAPTER XVIII 



BURGES JOHNSON 



B URGES JOHNSON voices the popular dis- 
content among successful humorists when he 
writes me that he should feel "most uncomfort- 
able," if he found himself appearing in twice as many 
pages as given to a writer of three times his ability. 
Well, as a matter of fact, the amount of space gfiven 
in this book to anybody or everybody is no gauge. If 
a man were absolutely nothing else but a humorist he 
would be entitled to no space at all. When he is a 
humanist and a humorist also he begins to grow. The 
truth is that Burges Johnson is altogether too modest 
in his estimate of himself — ^as a humorist, in the sketch 
that follows. Also he has given absolutely no indica- 
tion of what he is, as a man. The tmth is also, that, 
as a man, he is a "corker.*' When I die, it is possible 
that I shall invite some humorists to sit with me at 
certain times of every day. I haven't quite made up 
my mind about that. But, if I do, Burges Johnson 
will head the list. And he probably will not accept 
my invitation. He knows me. 

This is what he writes about himself: 

Mr. Burges Johnson says that he was bom in 
Vermont in 1877. ^^ followed his father (who was 

182 



SURGES JOHNSON 183 

a clergyman) to several successive parishes, where he 
may or may not have assisted in the parochial labors. 
In Chicago, he prepared for college, and graduated later 
from Amherst. He states that the ambition to be a 
writer led him, after many fruitless attacks upon 
editors, to solve the problem of publication in the only 
really eflfective way. He, himself, became an editor 
and bought his own stuff. This accounts for the fact 
that his writings first appeared in the pages of Harper's . 
and Everybody's magazines. For one eventful year 
he was editor-in-chief of Judge. 

The academic life always had allurement and, after 
some experimenting with educational publishing, he 
accepted an invitation to teach at Vassar College, where 
he is at this present time, directing the official publica- 
tions of the college and conducting a course which he 
calls "journalistic writing." During the six years that 
he has been there, thirty-five per cent of his graduates 
have begun earning their living in journalistic pursuits. 
Mr. Johnson admits that his underlying purpose in this 
teaching work is to place so many of his students in 
editorial positions that, in his old age, he can sell his 
own manuscript to them without inconvenience. He 
has published various books, including verse and 
essays. Just why he appears in this compendium he 
does not know. Reports that he is a humorist are 
greatly exaggerated. 



CHAPTER XIX 

PHILANDER CHASE JOHNSON 

PHILANDER CHASE JOHNSON, who for 
more than thirty years past has contributed 
verse, dialogue, editorial paragraphs, and dra- 
matic criticism to the Washington (D. C.) Star, was 
born in Wheeling, W. Va. His father, S. E. Johnson, 
was a well-known writer in Cincinnati and editorial 
correspondent in Washington, D. C. After newspaper 
service in various capacities in Cincinnati, Chicago and 
Washington, D. C, Philander Johnson established a 
connection with the Washington Star, and developed 
the characters "Senator Sorghum,'* "Farmer Com- 
tossel," "Uncle Eben," "Mr. and Mrs. Torkins" and 
a number of others that have long been prominently 
identified with current newspaper humor. He has been 
remarkably prolific in versification, his uninterrupted 
daily production including at least two examples of this 
form. His most popular verses, "Somewhere in France 
Is the Lily," was set to music and became one of the 
conspicuous ballads of the World War period. He is 
a character number of King Solomon Lodge, the day- 
light Masonic Lodge of Washington, and has contrib^ 
uted prominently to the unique entertainments of the 
Gridiron, of whose music committee he was, for many 

184 



PHILANDER CHASE JOHNSON 185 

years, the chairman. His home is in Cleveland Park, 
D. C, much of his working and leisure time, however, 
being passed on the shores of the Manasquan River, in 
New Jersey. 



CHAPTER XX 



RING W. LARDNER 



THE Saturday Evening Post literature has come 
to be known, to use the language which is as- 
sumed to be familiar to those th^t use its col- 
umns, as "in a class by itself." 

Whether the Saturday Evening Post has stifled what 
literature may have been about to spring up among 
us, or whether it has stimulated its growth and been 
the medium through which it has been expressed — all 
this is the subject for a passionate debate. My own 
opinion is, that it is one of our greatest and cleanest 
educational influences. 

It may be said that those that decry the Saturday 
Evening Post literature are the ones that have not 
succeeded — ^again descending into the vernacular — in 
"breaking into" it. 

The actual fact is that the Saturday Evening Post 
has published more readable stories, many of them in 
the very first class, than any other magazine in Amer- 
ica. It has introduced more new writers to the public 
during the past decade, than any other magazine. And, 
among these, not the least is Ring Lardner. 

Mr. Lardner once told me that his success as a writer 
could be summed up in two words : he "listened hard*' 

1 86 



RING W. LARDNER 187 

Undoubtedly he sprang from the soil. And he caught 
the language of those that, like him, had also sprung. 
It is always a debatable matter of course, how far a 
writer can go in his delineation of character by using 
the vocabulary of the common people. Every great 
writer has done it, but has done it with unerring insight. 
The dialect of some of Shakespeare's characters strikes 
us now as barbaric, particularly his Irish characters. 
His grave-digger's scene in "Hamlet'' is immortal, as 
is his Justice Shallow's patter. But, it is in the contrast 
between the language of the slums and the heights of 
thought, as expresesd through the finest shades of 
meaning, that Shakespeare is supreme. 

Ring Lardner is naturally not quite like this. He 
would be willing to admit that Shakespeare had him up 
against the ropes when it comes to "hitting off" a 
human being. Ring Lardner is more modest than 
Bernard Shaw. He is so modest, indeed, that I don't 
think he has ever thought of modesty as applied to any 
writer. He appears to me to be a perfectly normal type < 
of American, with a fine talent for expression, who 
has used the only medium that he is familiar with, 
namely, the language of the people. It is not fine 
language — on the contrary, it may give to some of us 
a hopeless feeling that, if these things are the best things 
the average American is talking about, we would better 
revise our school system. But it is human language — 
the kind you hear, and Ring Lardner reproduces it with 
fatal familiarity. He attempts nothing more. He has 
no need of doing so. Within his scope, he has pro- 
duced true humor — a kind of humor that carries along 
with it a gentle glow of freshness and gayety — ^an 



i88 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

atmosphere in which we can actually smell the soil 
itself. It is often horrible, but it is true. 

That is to say, it is true in so far as Ring Lardner 
is a true reporter of it, and this is all that any writer 
can be, for every good writer is only a reporter. He 
carries to us the news about htunan beings. And books 
are interesting only as they are able to convey this 
news. For example, Shakespeare reported the news 
about human qualities. He was able, through his 
genius, to show them off in contrast with the vast back- 
ground of humanity. He told us things about human 
beings that we might have known before, but he recast 
them, gave them vividness of color and setting, and 
thus brought out their contrasts. Unless the writer 
can give us something of news about his people, he will 
invariably fall flat. So, when we read Ring Lardner, 
we recognize that he is reporting for us a certain kind 
of atmosphere. He has listened, and this is the result 

But, in addition^ he has a dramatic talent of 
high order. He would not be a humorist if he did not 
have_ sentiment. He is, therefore, able to produce a 
story that (once more to descend) "gets" us. It is 
low-brow stuff. But it is the best of low-brow stuff. 

I have heard so many high-brows dismiss Ring 
Lardner as not being a part of the scheme of literary 
things — ^as they understand literary things — that I feel 
some obligation to report Ring Lardner himself. I 
have interviewed him. And he has written things 
about himself, not only for others, but for me. It was 
with the greatest reluctance that he did this. But he 
did it. 



RING W. LARDNER 189 

First, however, let me give a small extract from his 
writings. It is not the best. But it is characteristic. 
It is not a story. It is just a so-called humorous sketch. 

A Small Vocabulary May Have a Big Kick 

To the Editor: 

The other night I was to a party where they had 
a argument in regards to how many wds. is in the 
average man or lady's vocabulary which they meant 
how many wds. does a person use in their regular 
every day conversation and one lady said 4 or 5 thou- 
sand and one of the men give her the laugh and said 
700 was nearer the mark, and of course I didn't take 
no part in the argument as they was all my elders but 
that didn't keep me from thinking over the question 
and maybe some of my readers would be interested in 
doing the same. ,^., 

Well, in the first place you would naturally suppose 
that a woman's vocabulary was a lot bigger than a 
man's on acct. of them talking so much more, but on 
second thoughts that don't prove nothing as you will 
notice that the most women say the same thing over 
and over and a woman might say 10,000 wds. per 
day but only 10 different wds. like for inst. : 

"I wished we had a fire. The house is cold," which 
she is libel to say a 1000 times makeing a total of 
10,000 wds. that don't mean nothing. 

As a matter of fact, a man though he don't talk no- 
wheres near as much, don't repeat himself nowheres 
near as often, a specially since they fixed it so he had 
to quit saying, "Give us another," so wile a man may 
talk 100 wds. a day to a woman's 10,000, still they's 
libel to be 50 different wds. amongst his 100 and some- 
times even more than that, though if a man does say 



190 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

loo wds. the chances are that at lease 50 of them is 
"Well." 

Some men of course has more to say than others and 
they's been evenings in my career when I only said 2 
wds. the whole evening namely "stay*' and "pass" and 
a few afternoons spent outdoors when my conversation 
was just the numeral wds. "seven" and "eight." 

When all is said and done I suppose the number of 
wds. a person talks depends on what line of business 
they are in, like for example a doctor talks practically 
all the time where as a engineer on a R. R. or a fisher- 
man don't hardly say nothing, and even some people 
talks more than others in the same business like for 
inst. a elevator man in a 22 story bldg. has twice as 
much to say as a elevator man in a 1 1 story bldg. and 
a train man on a subway local has to name maybe 
30 or 35 stations while a train man on a express only 
names 4 or 5, but as far as that is consemed for all 
the good they do, the both of them might as well keep 
their mouth shut. 

A box office man in a N. Y. theatre only has to say 
2 wds. all day, namely, "Seventeenth row." 

A man that runs a garage can get along on even 
less, as all he has to do is say, "No," when people 
call up to ask is their car ready yet. 

In the old days, barbers use to do a lot of talking. 
They had a vocabulary of about 1000 wds. which they 
would repeat them the same number of times per day 
as they had clients in their chairs, but the funny papers 
and etc. begin to kid barbers about talking so as now 
a barber is almost scared to even say your hair is 
falling out, but it's agony for them to keep their mouth 
shut and their wifes must get he-U when they get 
home. 

A traffic policeman's conversation varies aoocMrding 



RING W. LARDNER 191 

to what time of day it is. In the morning he only has 
to say "What do you think you are trying to do?" 
which is 9 wds. all together and only 7 of them dif- 
ferent, but along in the afternoon when he ain't feeling 
so genial he adds 2 wds. makeing it : 

"What the hell do you think you are trying to do?'' 
As for the motor man on a st. car they's generally 
always a sign that says don't talk to the motorman and 
I use to think that meant you mustn't talk to him on 
acct. of it bothering him and takeing his mind off his 
work, but wile rideing on the front platform of St. cars 
in N. Y. and Chicago I come to the conclusion that he 
don't want to be interrupted. 

The facts of the matter is that nobody likes nobody 
for their vocabulary and no man ever married a gal 
because she could say 5000 wds. besides yes or because 
she couldn't, and on the contrary one of my best 
friends is a man that don't hardly ever open his mouth 
only to take a fresh chew, but they say its nice for a 
person to know a whole lot of wds. even if they don't 
use them so when they are in church or rideing on a 
train or something they can amuse themselfs counting 
up the wds. they know. 

As for a big vocabulary getting a person anywheres 
or doing them any good, they's a party liveing in our 
house that is 2 yrs. old and I don't suppose he has got 
a vocabulary of more than 200 wds. and even some of 
them sounds foreign, but this bird gets whatever he 
kvants and I don't know of nobody who I would rather 
:rade jobs with. 

Which is about all the wds. I can write about wds., 
Dnly to recommend to the reader a kind of a game 
[ tried out the other day which was a couple of days 
ifter the party and the game was to try and think 
*very time before I spoke and count the nimiber of 



192 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

wds. I used and count how many of them was necessary 
and how many could be left out and of course I forgot 
a couple times and said things without thinking or 
counting them, but you would be surprised at the few 
number of wds. it is necessary for a person to say 
in the course of a day and personally I come to the 
conclusion that a dumb mute ain't so much to be pitied 
after all and the people around him less. 

RING W. LARDNER. 



This piece is undoubtedly strained in spots; it is 
reminiscent; it shows the defects of its qualities. In 
miniature, it is representative of the weakness and 
strength of the greater part of our writing. Ring 
Lardner, at his best, is .much better than this. But, in 
"sizing up" such an important figure in our contem- 
porary letters, (and do not believe for a moment that 
Mr. Lardner is not important) one must be accurate. 
He is an American humorist of no mean proportions. 
His "stuff" is read by millions. He is popular, and de- 
servedly so. We should not be fooled by what appears 
to be his commonness. In fact, he is not common at 
all, or common only when he brings in such allusions to 
poker as he has done in this sketch: that is to say, 
drawing on the old stock jokes. We are all guilty of 
doing that. There is a sense in which the reader would 
not understand us if we didn't. It has been my own 
experience that a man, give him rope enough, can talk 
much faster than a woman, and often much less to the 
point ; yet, for generations, a woman's tongue has been 
a subject for jest; therefore, in any humorous article, 
it may be proper to allude to this matter, as Lardner 



RING W. LARDNER 193 

does in his sketch. I remember quite well the visit 
of a widely known reciter to my own home town. The 
chairman of the committee that engaged him was fear- 
ful that he would "spring'* too many old jokes, and so 
took him aside before the entertainment and requested 
him to be as original as possible, bearing in mind that 
the audience (as usual) was a very "cultured'' one. 

The reciter was quite game. He declared his S)mi- 
pathy and appreciation of the whole situation. And, 
during the first part of the evening, regaled his hearers 
with lofty humor — ^humor that was quite "literary," 
but produced nothing but intense silence. The chair- 
man was greatly alarmed. During the recess, he re- 
marked, with sobs in his voice, that the "evening wasn't 
going at all." 

"You would have it so," replied the reciter with a 
bland smile. "It is not, however, too late; if you will 
allow me, I will save your reputation and mine." 

He thereupon proceeded, during the latter half of the 
evening, to tell them about mothers-in-law, about poker, 
and about ladies that talk, until it is no exaggeration 
to say that the entire audience was convulsed, and voted 
him the funniest speaker they had ever listened to. 

This is what every humorist knows. He must play 
to the gallery. At the same time, it is extremely unjust 
to judge a humorist altogether by the old jokes he may 
spring. To be a real humorist, he must have that other 
thing — ^real originality, real insight. Ring Lardner 
undoubtedly has these. The people know, quite largely. 
You cannot fool them all the time. Personally, I have 
been able to get out of Ring Lardner some of the most 
pleasurable glows I have ever had. He is a real Amer- 



/ 



194 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ican, a delightful story-teller, a quite unique repro- 
ducer, or reporter, of the feelings that we all have. 
And this is what he says about writing : 

Inside Facts of the Writing Game 

In the first place the average party has got a maga- 
zine editor all wrong witch they usually are. They 
think he is a man that will give everybody a square 
deal where as the most of them lets their personal feel- 
ings and tempermunt get the best of them. For inst. 
a new beginner is libel to be discouraged because their 
manuscript comes back on them and they think to 
themself that the story couldn't of bean no good or 
the editor would of eat it up and they may as well 
give up writeing and try something else. 

Well the U. S. is probably dirty with these kind of 
people that would of made grand authors if they hadn*t 
of became discouraged on acct. of their ignorants of 
editors and how to handle them. The best rule for a 
new beginner to follow is to ist. get a idear for a story 
and then forget the idear and go ahead and write the 
story out or dictate it to somebody that has got a good 
hand writeing or better yet one of these new fangle 
machines called a typewriter that makes it look all most 
like print. 

Then put a good suggestive title on the story like for 
inst. "Clara's Calves'' and then give it to your family 
to read and if they say it reads good why it must be 
good and the next question is how to get it before a 
magazine editor and get a square deal. The most 
magazine editors don't want good stories as it crowds 
out the ads and in the 2d. place the most editors won't 
read manuscripts themself because it keeps them away 
from hockey so they give them to the wife and kiddies 



RING W. LARDNER 195 

and leave them pass judgment or if they do read them 
themself, why the chances are they have got a secret 
grudge vs. you for something that maybe i of your 
relatives done to them, or you got the same name as 
somebody they don't like and that is enough to knock 
your chances for a gool from field. 

But I of the biggest mistakes a new beginner makes 
is to send return stamps along with their manuscript 
as most of the editors is air tight and the minute they 
see stamps that somebo4y else has boughten why they 
can't wait a minute till they use them, and whist, back 
comes your manuscript. I remember once, before I 
became a wise cracker, that I sent a stamped self 
address envelope along with a good story I wrote and 
the old skin flint shot it back to me pro tem all because 
he couldn't do nothing else with a addressed envelope 
with the stamps stuck to it and couldn't bear to see it 
wasted. Both my sisters read the story I speak of and 
said it was a pip, and I wished the old Shylock could 
of heard what they said about him for sending it 
back. 

Well, then the only way to get a square deal from 
a editor is to scrap up a acquaintance with somebody 
that is all ready in the writeing game, and the editor 
knows who he is and got respects for him, and then 
have this bird write a letter for you to send along with 
the manuscript, and have him say in the letter that your 
story is O. K. and the editor is a sap if he don't accept 
because you have got a lot of friends that will stop their 
subscription if that story comes back. These kind of 
letters makes a editor think twice, and they tell me that 
even a author like Irvin Cobb don't never think of 
sending in a mss. without getting somebody down in 
Washington to write and tell the editor where he will 
head in at if they's any monkey business. 



196 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

So much for how to get a square deal after your 
story is wrote. As for the writeing itself, a good many 
new beginners falls down because they try and write 
their story without the right atmosphere to work in. 
I can't give no advice on this subject, as different 
authors demands different working conditions. For 
inst. they say Rupert M. Hughes can't write a line un- 
lest the water is running in the bath tub, and Fannie 
Hurst won't attempt to work without the room is full 
of sardine cans, where as when the editor wants a story 
out of Mrs. Rhinehart they get somebody to stand 
and snap a rubber band at her neck. Personally I 
never feel comfortable at my desk unlest they's a dozen 
large rats parked on my ft. These inst. will give you 
a idear of how different tempermunts effects different 
writers but, as I say, each writer has to chose for them- 
self what tempermunt to have, and I might advise you 
to try writeing in a public garage, whereas you mig^t 
do your best work setting in a eel trap. 

Ring Lardner, in my opinion, has not yet written 
his best work. In fact, he is only just beginning. 
There is a sense in which he is much too popular to be 
as good as he might be. That is really the difficulty 
with America. We have as much raw talent — ^indeed 
positive genius — ^as any other country, if not more. 
But our popular writers get carried away by their own 
success. Form is what counts in literature, as in every- 
thing else. Many of our best writers start out with 
the best intentions and the best form, but they become 
swamped later by their own success. It is not their 
fault. We are too material, that is to say, we are too 
wasteful, and wastefulness leads to large niateriaUsiii» 
because one can afford to throw away a thing that it 



RING W. LARDNER 197 

only half done and take up something new. We do 
this with our resources, and our writers naturally come 
to think they can do this with theirs. No American 
writer has a chance to develop himself to the utmost. 
When he gets about halfway, he is successful, and to 
be successful is always fatal. 

The real trouble with our literature is that it has 
never produced any failures. 

The real trouble with Mr. Lardner, as with so many v 
others, is that he has been able (again!) to "get away 
with it." The question now remains whether he will 
grow better. He must grow better. He has got to 
get better. We need him. This is what he writes 
about getting to be thirty-five, for his friend, John 
Siddall, of the American Magazine: 

In regards to this article : When the Editor asked 
me to write it up I said I didn't see how more than 
only a few people would be interested because they 
was only a few that is this old. So he told me that, as 
a matter of fact, pretty near everybody in the world 
that can read is either 35 or a few mos. one way or 
the other and if I didn't think that was so to go and 
look it up in a book. So I looked up in the encyclopedia 
and they was nothing in there like he said, but I found 
out a whole lot of other things that was news to me 
and maybe the reader don't know them neither so I 
will write them down. 

In the 1st. place, it says that most people dies when 
they are i yr. old and the ist. 10 yrs. is the most 
fatalist. But if they's a 100 thousand people that can 
manage to get to be 10 yrs. old why then 749 of them 
is pretty libel to die the yext )rr. After that, the older 



198 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

you get the longer you live up to when you are 59, 
and then you can just about count on liveing 14 and 
7-10 yrs. more. In other wds. if you ain't one of the 
749 that crokes between 10 and 11, why you are safe 
till about June of the yr. when you are 73. So a 
person is a sucker to try and take care of themself at 
^y ^g^» ^nd from now on I am going to be a loose 
fish and run wild. 

Out in Benton Harbor, Mich., however, near where 
I use to live, they have got a sex that calls themself s 
the Holy Terrors or something that claims you live 
as long as you are good and as soon as you do wrong 
you die. But I notice that they all wear a beard so 
as the encyclopedia can't tell if they are 73 or 21. 

Another thing it says in the book is that figures 
compiled in Norway and Sweden shows that the death 
rate amongst bachelors is a lot more than amongst 
married men even includeing murder. So anybody that 
is between 11 and 73 yrs. old and got a wife is prac- 
tally death proof especially if you are a Swede. 

But all that is either here or there. The idear is to 
tell how it feels to be my age and I may as well get 
to it. Well, in the ist. place, I am speaking for myself 
only. I don't know how how the other 35 jrr. olders 
feels about it and don't care. Probably the most of 
them don't feel near as old as the writer. Laughter 
is supposed to keep a man young but if its forced 
laughter it works the opp. When a guy is named 
Ring W. and is expected to split their sides when ever 
somebody asks if your middle name is Worm which 
is an average of 365 times per annum over a period of 
35 annums, why it can't help from telling on you. Or 
it don't lighten the wgt. of the )rrs. none to half to 
snicker every time they say Ring give me a ring, or 
Ring why ain't you a ring master in RingUng JBros. 



RING W. LARDNER 199 

And yet a number of birds has asked me if that was 
my real name or did I assume it. They would probably 
ask the kaiser if he moved to Holland to be near the 
tulips. 

I suppose that, on the morning of their 21st. birth- 
day, the right kind of a American citizen wakes up 
full of excitement and says to themself "Now I am 
of age and can vote and everything." And when they 
come to what I often call the 35th. mile stone they are 
even more smoked up with the thought that now they 
are eligible to be President, and go aroimd all day 
stoop shouldered with the new responsability. 

Well, I don't recall how I woke up the day I was 
21 if at all but my last birthday is still green and sour 
in my memory. I spent the most of it in Mineola 
signing mortgages, and if I thought of the White 
House, it was just to wonder if it would do any good 
to write and tell President Wilson about the Long 
Island R. R. 

At the present writeing I have got so use to being 
35 that I don't know if it feels any different from 
34 or 33. But I can at least state that being 35 don't 
feel nothing like being under 30. For inst. when the 
telephone rings now days I am scared to death that its 
somebody asking us to go somewheres for dinner or 
somewheres. Six yrs. ago I was afraid it wasn't. At 
29, home was like they say on the vaudeville stage, a 
place to go when all the other joints was closed up. 
At 35 its a place you never leave without a loud 
squawk. 

A man don't appreciate their home till you are up 
around par for 9 holes. Under 30, you think of it as 
a dump where you can't pick out what you want to 
eat, like roast Vt. turkey or a filet mignon or some 
of that prune fed muskrat a la Biltmore. If Kathleen 



200 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

decides in the a. m. that you are going to crave spare 
ribs at night, why you can either crave spare ribs at 
night or put on a hunger strike that won't get you no 
more sympathy than the hiccups. 

In them ribald days home is just a kind of a pest 
where you half to choke down breakfast or they will 
think something ails you and talk about sending for a 
Dr. And i or 2 evenings per wk. when you can't think 
of no reason to go out, its where you half to set around 
and wait for 9 o'clock so as you begin to talk about 
going to bed, and sometimes things gets so desperate 
that you half to read a book or something. 

But at 35 you spell it with a big H. Its where you 
can take off your shoes. Its where you can have more 
soup. Its where you don't half to say nothing when 
they's nothing to say. Its where they don't wait till 
the meal is all over and then give you a eye dropper 
full of coffee raw. Its where you don't half to listen. 
Its where they don't smear everything with cheese 
dressing. Its where you can pan everybody without it 
going no further. Its where they know you like dough- 
nuts and what you think about a banana. 

When you was 29 you didn't care for the band to 
play "Home sweet Home." It was old stuff and a 
rotten tune any way. Now you hope they won't play 
it neither. Its a pretty tune but it makes you bust out 
crying. 

Bud Kelland that lives over to Port Washington 
wrote a piece for this magazine a wile ago where he 
said in it that it kind of shocked him to find out that 
young people didn't act like he was one of them no 
more. Well he ain't, but it took the old gaffer a long 
time to find it out. Here he is pretty near 39 and I 
guess the old Methuselum wants folks to hide I Mary 
Mac Lane when he comes in the rm. 



RING W. LARDNER 201 

Well it was 5 or 6 yrs. ago when I realized that I 
was past my nonages as they say. It come to me all 
of a sudden that the only compliments I had for a 
long wile was what a pretty tie you got or something. 
Nothing about my natural charms no more. It was 
an egg's age since anybody had called me to i side 
and whispered "I got a T. L. for you. Gertie thinks 
your ears is immense." 

I seen then that I wasn't no longer a larva and I 
guess maybe it hurt at first. But its like falling hair 
or the telephone service or anything else. When you 
have lived with it a wile you don't mind. Which is 
just as well because they ain't a wk. passes when you 
wouldn't get touched on the raw if they was any raw 
left. 

Like for inst. a few wks. back I was up in Boston 
where I got a young and beautiful sister-in-law. When 
it come time to part from she and her husband she 
kissed me 6 times, which was supposed to be once for 
me and once apiece for the Mrs. and 4 kiddies. Well 
I thought it was pretty nice and got kind of excited 
about it till I looked at her husband to see how he 
took it. He took it without batting an eye. To him 
it was like as if she was kissirig an old cab horse on 
a bet for the benefit of the Red Cross. And when 
I had left and they was alone together, instead of lep- 
ping at her throat with a terrible curse he probably 
says "J^^^y> you're a good game gal," and she give 
him a kiss that meant something. 

Now an incident like this would of spoilt my whole 
trip if I didn't look at it in a sensible way, which is to 
say to yourself, **Well if I wasn't in the Sears and 
yellow I wouldn't of got them 6 kisses. And 6 kisses 
is ^ a dozen kisses in any language." 

Or for inst. out on the golf course. Suppose I and 



202 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Grant Rice is playing with some young whipper snapper 
like say Jack Wheeler and they's only i caddy for the 
3 of us. **Take them two" says Jade pointing to my 
and Grant's bags but the caddy has all ready took 
them any way as soon as he found out which ones be- 
longed to which. Or when one of my young brother 
in laws is around the house and I come in the rm. and 
they are setting in the easy chair, why they jump up 
like food shot from guns and say "Here take this 
chair." 

All and all when you get hardened to it they's many 
advantages in reaching your dottage. When they's 7 
passengers for a 7 passenger car its never you that has 
to take one of them little torture seats. When your 
brother in law is here on a visit and the Mrs. thinks 
it would be nice to have a fire in the fire place, you 
ain't the one that has got to ruin his clothes. Yes, 
friends the benefits is many fold but if them J4 a dozen 
kisses and a few stray others pretty near as good was 
all, why you could still think to yourself Youth may 
get good service, but 35 ain't makeing no complaints 
to the management neither. 

As for the gen. symptoms of 35 and vicinity as I 
have found them, and not speaking for nobody, only 
myself you understand, the following points may in- 
terest science : 

1. The patient sometimes finds himself and one 
lady the only people left at the table and all the others 
is danceing. They seems to be nothing for it but to 
get up and dance. You start and the music stops and 
the young buddies on the fir. claps their hands for a 
encore. The patient claps his hands too but not very 
loud and he hopes to high heaven the leader will take 
it in a jokeing way. 

2. For some reason another its necessary to find 



RING W. LARDNER 203 

some old papers and, in going through the trunk, the 
patient runs acrost a bunch of souvenirs and keep 
sakes like a note a gal wrote him in high school, a 
picture of himself in a dirty football suit, a program 
of the 1907 May festival in South Bend and etc. 
"Why keep this junk" he says and dumps them all in 
the waste basket. 

3. The case develops nausea in the presents of all 
story tellers except maybe Irvin Cobb and Riley Wilson 
and Bert Williams. Any others has to work pretty 
fast to get him cornered. Violent chills attends the 
sound of those saddest wds. of tongue or pen "I don't 
know if you heard this one or not but it struck me 
funny. It seems they was a woman went in a dry- 
goods store in Detroit to buy some towels. Stop me 
if you heard it before." You couldn't stop them with 
big Bertha. The best funny storys is Balzac's because 
they are in a book and you don't half to buy it. But 
when you get up vs. one of these here voluntary stag 
entertainers you either got to listen and laugh or they 
put you down as a dumb bell. 

4. The invalid goes to a ball game and along comes 
the last Yt. of the 14th. innings and the score is i and 
I and the ist. guy up makes a base hit. The patient 
happens to look at his watch and it says 11 minutes to 
6 and if he leaves the park right away he can make 
the 6:27 home where as if he waits a few min. he 
will half to take the 6:54. Without no hesitation he 
leaves the park right away and makes the 6 127. 

5. The subject is woke up at 3 a. m. by the 
fire whistle. He sniffles but can't smell no smoke. 
He thinks well it ain't our house and goes back to 
sleep. 

6. He sets down after breakfast to read the paper. 
The mail man comes and brings him 3 letters. One 



204 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

of them looks like it was a gal's writeing. He reads the 
paper. 

7. He buys a magazine in April and reads the first 
instalment of a misery serial. The instalment winds 
up with the servants finding their master's body in bed 
and his head in the ash tray. Everything pts. to the 
young wife. Our patient forgets to buy the May 
number. 

8. Somebody calls up and says they are giveing a 
party Thursday night for Mabel Normand and can you 
come. Our hero says he is sorry but he will be in 
Washington on business. He hasn't no more business 
in Washington than Gov. Cox. 

9. They's a show in town that you got to see like 
Frank Craven or "Mecca." "It's a dandy night" says 
the Mrs. "Shall we drive in or take the train?" 
"We will take the train" says our hero. 

These is a few of the symptoms as I have observed 
them and as I say I am speaking for just myself and 
maybe I am a peculiar case. They may not be another 
35 yr. older in the world that is affected the same 
way and in fact I know several suffers about that age 
which I am as different than as day and night. Take 
Jess Willard for inst. He was somewheres around 
35 in July 1 91 9 and Dempsey knocked him down 7 
times in one rd. He wouldn't do that to me, not 7 
times he wouldn't. Or look at Ty Cobb. Do you 
think they would get me to play center field and manage 
a ball club for $30,000? Or would Jim Thorpe's 
brother-in-law look on him as too frail to hobble down 
in the basement and get a few sticks of wood? 

On the other hand they might be 2 or 3 brother 
eagles in the mediocer 30s that is even more mildewed 
than me, but I am afraid they's a whole lot more of 
them feels like a colt. They take care of themselfs. 



RING W. LARDNER 205 

When they get up in the a. m. they take a cold plunge 
and then hang by their eye teeth on a hook in the 
closet while they count 50 in Squinch. And noons, 
when they come back from their lunch of hot milk and 
ferns, they roll over on the office rug 10 times without 
bending their shin. 

I can't compete with these babies. I slice a few 
golf balls in season but bet. Nov. and May the only 
exercise I get or want to get is twice a wk. whea 
I take the buttons out of shirt A and stick them in. 
shirt B. 

They's still another crowd yet that renews their 
youth by going back every yr. to commencement or a 
class reunion or something. Well, I don't know if I 
want to renew my youth or not. Leave bad enough, 
alone is my slogum. And in the 2d. place I don't half 
to go nowheres to a class reunion. I could hold it in 
the bath tub. I was the only one that graduated whea 
I did, as it was in March of my freshman yr. and they 
didn't seem to be haveing no commencement exercises 
for nobody else. I guess I must have been one of these 
here infantile proteges like that 1 1 mos. old junior they 
got up to Columbia. 

No article of this kind would be complete without 
shooting a few wds. of unwanted advice at my youngers 
and betters. For inst. John D. tells the boys how to 
build up a fortune and John Jones tells them how to 
rise from a white wings to a steeple jack. So it looks 
like it was up to me to tell them how to get to be what 
I am, 35 yrs. old. 

Well, my lads, they's 4 rules that I made and have 
stuck to them and I think you will find they'll brinf 
you the same results. The ist. rule is don't die the 
1st. yr. The 2d. rule is don't be one of the 749 that 
dies when they are 11. The 3d rule is don't pick a 



2o6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

quarrel with a man like Dempsey. And the 4th. and 
last rule is marry a girl like Sue. 

In explanations of that last rule I will say that the 
one I married ain't Sue but the name don't make no 
diflferents if she is the right kind of a gal. And the 
reason I say that is because its customary in these 
intimate capital I talks to throw in a paragraph of 
blurb about the little woman. What ever success a 
man has had he has got to pretend he owes it to Her. 
So if they's any glory to be gleaned out of my success 
in reaching 35 and looking even older, why she can 
have it. 

What fooling that is! One may read on and on, 
knowing that one is not going to get anywhere so far 
as Ring Lardner himself is concerned, and not caring 
whether one does or not. 

I wanted to put it in this book, and got his permis* 
sion to do so, and after it had been placed, it then oc- 
curred to me that it was too interesting. And besides, 
it had none of that dull and useful information about 
Lardner himself that one is bound to expect in a book 
like this. It was impossible for me to tell just what 
had happened to Ring Lardner that had made him as 
good as he is, without calling upon him once more. 
And so I got him — ^with much preliminary pain — to 
write what follows about himself : 

I was bom at Niles, Michigan, on the 6th of March, 
1885, and soon entered the high school. I kept right 
up with the rest of the class, and we all graduaied 
together. In those days the graduate with the best 
scholastic record was awarded a scholarship at Olivet 



RING W. LARDNER 207 

College. It wasn't offered to me, possibly because it 
was a Methodist college and I was an Episcopalian. 

I wanted to go to the University of Michigan and 
take football and dentistry, so I was sent to Armour 
Institute, Chicago, to study mechanical engineering. 
At the end of the first semester, I passed in rhetoric 
and out of Armour. 

That was in the early spring of 1902. During the 
next year and a half I took part in two minstrel shows, 
and then came an opening as bookkeeper at the gas- 
office. I felt exhausted and didn't want to take it, but 
my father coaxed me into it in a few well-chosen 
words. I learned one thing on this job— That there's a 
lot of cheating done in the gas business, and it's all 
done by the consumers. The company doesn't have to 
cheat. 

When I had been there two years, the editor of the 
South Bend (Ind.) Times came to town to see my 
brother. He was a (the, to be exact) reporter on the 
Niles Sun and the Times' Niles correspondent. The 
Times wanted him to join its reportorial staff. He was 
out of town, so the editor came to the gas-office and 
hired me. I had no newspaper experience, but a two 
years' course in a gas-office teaches you practically all 
there is to know about human nature. Besides, I had 
been class poet at the high school, and knew I could 
write. 

My position on the Times was sporting editor and 
staff, dramatic critic, society and court-house reporter, 
and banquet hound. My hours were from 8 A. M. 
on. 

In the fall of 1907, I attended the world's series 
games at Chicago, met Hughey FuUerton, and, through 
him, landed as a sport reporter on the Inter-Ocean. 
Thereafter, reading from left to right, I was baseball 



:2o8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

and football writer on the Chicago Examiner and 
Chicago Tribune, editor of Sporting News, a St. Louis 
baseball publication, baseball reporter on the Boston 
American, copy reader on the Chicago American, once 
more baseball writer on the Examiner, and column 
conductor on the Chicago Tribune. 

In January, 1914, I wrote a baseball story and sent 
it to the Saturday Evening Post. It was accepted and 
published. I wrote some more and they were accepted 
and published. Mr. Lorimer is a good man and a 
great editor. The same may be said of a great many 
editors of big magazines. 

But now I am trying to horn into the play-writing 
game and may deal less with editors and more with 
theatrical men. And may God have mercy on my soul I 



CHAPTER XXI 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 



WITHOUT this dishonorable explanation issued 
as' a mean method of circumventing critics, I 
should probably receive a nimiber of letters 
asking me why I write about Stephen Leacock in a 
book presumed to be exclusively about American 
hiunorists. 

I know in advance all the reasons why I shouldn't 
do it — ^that Stephen Leacock was evolved in Canada, 
dating from the year 1876, that he is a political econ- 
omist, that he is too funny to be an American humorist, 
and so forth and so forth. 

And what difference does all this make to me? I 
am determined to write about Stephen Leacock. If 
he had been born in Patagonia I should write about 
him. There are others that Tve got to write about: 
but I haven't got to write about Leacock, and that is 
why I am writing about him. 

Besides, he is worth writing about, and he is just 
as much an American for my purpose as if he had 
been born in Ohio. There are no fences between Can- 
ada and this country, and Leacock has more readers 
here than anywhere else. He writes for us, and about 
us, and the first recognition he got as a humorist came 

209 



2IO OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

through us. I recall even now one of his earliest 
sketches (if not his first), that was published in Life, 
"My Financial Career." It was not only copied broad- 
cast and is now a classic, but still remains one of the 
best bits of humor in the anthologies. 

Mr. Leacock had his handicaps. He became a 
political economist. Think of the courage of any 
man who is a political economist daring to become 
a humorist! He was once asked how the university 
dignitaries regarded him, especially the humor written 
at their expense. **At first," he said, "they were rather 
upset, but now they don't mind a jot. Of course if I 
had failed I would have been called a jackass; as it is 
I am a pet product." 

Perhaps it was because he started his career on soda 
biscuits that he came to be so eminent. Of this he 
writes : 

When I was a student at the University of Toronto 
thirty years ago, I lived — from start to finish — ^in 
seventeen different boarding houses. As far as I am 
aware these houses have not, or not yet, been marked 
with tablets. But they are still to be found in the 
vicinity of McCaul and Darcy, and St. Patrick streets. 
Any one who doubts the truth of what I have to say 
may go and look at them. 

I was not alone in the nomadic life that I led. There 
were hundreds of us drifting about in this fashion 
from one melancholy habitation to another. We lived 
as a rule two or three in a house, sometimes alone. We 
dined in the basement. We always had beef, done up 
in some way after it was dead, and there were always 
soda biscuits on the table. They used to have a brand 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 211 

of soda biscuits in those days in the Toronto boarding 
houses that I have not seen since. They were better 
than dog biscuits but with not so much snap. My con- 
temporaries will all remember them. A great many of 
the leading barristers and professional men of Toronto 
were fed on them. 

This chapter about "Steve" Leacock, as the reader is 
doubtless already aware, cannot be an orderly pro- 
ceeding. I tried to make it so, mapping it out as if I 
were a first-class understudy to an efficiency expert: 
but when one thinks of Leacock, all order must be 
abandoned: in the end, if you don't mind literary dis- 
order, you will know as much about him as I have 
learned, and you may then rearrange it to suit your- 
self. 

I recall the first time I saw him, after having read 
him for many years. To be frank, it was disappoint- 
ing. It generally is. A friend said to me recently: 
**I never want to meet a genius personally," and so our 
first impressions of eminent persons, and oftentimes 
our later ones, are apt to be disappointing. 

He talked about "whiskers" — ^when they began and 
where they left off, their relationship to literature, their 
moral effect and so on. It was excruciatingly funny, 
but appeared to me to be too superficial, too purely 
materialistic. It didn't mean anything : it wasn't worth 
while. Afterwards I saw that I was wrong. The fact 
is, that nobody else but Leacock could have talked about 
whiskers in the way he did, and recover from it with- 
out injury. I visualized other humorists I knew try- 
ing to do it, and saw plainly what would have hap- 
pened. It wasn't, certainly not ! — ^the best that Leacock 



212 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

could have done, but the fact that he could do it at all 
was enough to stamp him as Leacock and nobody else. 

Then again — ^sometime later — one of my daughters 
suddenly caught me one day just before I was about 
to submerge myself in toil and said: **We have been 
reading the funniest book — 'Winsome Winnie/ We 
screamed with laughter. You simply must read it." 

Thereupon I got the book and started to read it aloud. 
It was subtitled "New Nonsense Novels," being the 
last volume of Mr. Leacock's works. I read "Broken 
Barriers." Certainly nothing, read aloud, could be 
more laughable. I have mentioned elsewhere that 
George Ade's "Fables" are not so easy to read aloud, 
except to a highly sophisticated audience. Leacock has 
an astonishing gift in the use of words and images 
that compel laughter. Not all of his nonsense novels 
come up to this test : some of them we found dull read- 
ing, but there is none better than the best of them. Of 
this kind of writing Leacock, writing of his first vol- 
imie of "Nonsense Novels" says: 

The stories in this book I wrote for a newspaper 
syndicate in 1910. They are not meant as parodies 
of the work of any particular author. They are types 
done in burlesque. 

Of the many forms of himiorous writing pure bur- 
lesque is, to my thinking, one of the hardest — I could 
almost feel like saying, is the hardest — ^to do properly. 
It has to face the cruel test of whether the reader docs 
or does not laugh. Other forms of humor avoid this. 
Grave friends of mine tell me that they get an ex- 
quisite humor, for instance, from the works of John 
Milton. But I never see them laugh at them. They 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 213 

say that "Paradise Lost" is saturated with humor. To 
me, I regret to say, it seems scarcely damp. 

Burlesque, of course, beside the beautiful broad can- 
vas of a Dickens or a Scott shrinks to a poor, mean 
rag. It is, in fact, so limited in its scope that it is 
scarcely worth while. I do not wish for a moment to 
exalt it. But it appears to me, I repeat, a singularly 
difficult thing to do properly. It is to be remembered, 
of course, that the work of the really great humorists, 
let us say Dickens and Mark Twain, contain piages and 
pages that are in their essence burlesque. 

Mr. Leacock has another handicap besides being a 
political economist. He has come out of Montreal. 
By some this is considered apparently a severe test. 
Mr. J. P. Collins (the Reader) writes of him thus : 

Can anything good come out of Montreal? The 
late Samuel Butler, who is vaunted as a kind of modern 
Buddha, appeared to think not. He wrote a lampoon, 
one remembers, intended to wither the devoted city 
up, and all because he had found in its museum a 
classic statue stuck away in a lumber room, and a busy 
taxidermist much to the fore, engaged in the harmless 
occupation of stuffing an owl. Hence the "Psalm of 
Montreal,*' and all that apostrophic pother about Mr. 
Spurgeon's haberdasher and his precious brother-in- 
law. Montreal strikes one as rather a long way to 
go in search of incongruities, when the worthy Samuel 
could have found specimens flourishing triumphantly 
at South Kensington or his beloved Bloomsbury; but 
satirists must have their little fling, so let Butlerians 
boast that he converted the Canadians from the error 
of their ways. Other men have not been so successful. 
Mr. Kipling, for instance, paid Canada years ago a 



214 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

compliment worth having when he christened her by the 
title of an old church in Quebec "Our Lady of the 
Snows" : and he must have been quite unprepared for 
the snort of disgust this accolade aroused in her offi- 
cial circles — regions disturbed by the thought that 
poetic liberties of this kind might interfere with im- 
migration business. But there are inklings of a better 
frame of mind in Canada to-day, and even Mon- 
treal is ahead of the rest of the world in one important 
respect. She can appreciate a man who unites in him- 
self to an exceptional degree the double capacities of 
scholar and wit, philosopher and humorist. 

Most halls of learning have harped too heavily on 
the dividing line, and ruled off the wholesome spirit 
of mirth. with a kind of bar sinister. McGill Univer- 
sity does better, for it can boast a man whose titles to 
our admiration are evenly balanced as between levity 
and gravity, and, in Professor Stephen Leacock, it pos- 
sesses a savant in politics and economics who is also a 
brilliant jester, and recognized in both roles in both 
the hemispheres. As such, and not merely as the author 
of several volumes of philosophy and belles-lettres, he 
enjoys a place of his own in modern English-speaking 
literature. The only difficulty is which of his aspects 
to take first — the grave or the gay, the lively or severe, 
Stevenson stood out for the happy paradox that a 
man's recreations were the main affair in life, and 
work was only the negligible day-drudge, so there is 
authority and warrant for treating the Professor's 
lighter volumes first. But usage and tradition are all 
in favor of taking the solid courses before the sweets^ 
quite apart from the question of chronology. 

Of the quality of Mr. Leacock's humor Mr. Collins 
speaks with sympathy: 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 215 

Having never met the Professor at the breakfast 
table, I can handsomely acquit him on all those dis* 
paraging points that make up an appearance of intimacy 
and are supposed to supply the "personal'' touch to a 
composite portrait like this. But a talk he gave me 
years ago went far to explain by its pace and tone as 
well as its substance how he turns his leisure to such 
blithe results. He denies, by the way, that his lighter 
work is the product of idle moments; but this, I sus- 
pect, is because the plague of idleness hardly ever dis- 
turbs so keen a temperament. To a mind well stored 
with the best reading of the older hemisphere he adds 
the audacity and energy of the other. In answer to 
a remark of mine, he said that, while in Europe here, 
we did our reading carelessly, and were content to 
absorb the best literature in fragments or flying al- 
lusions, a keener generation in the Colonies did its 
reading for itself, and devoured all the right reprints 
instead of arranging them along a decorative but dusty 
shelf. He might have gone further and said that, in 
the Old Country here, we are so bemused with passing 
talent and polemic garrulity, that we lose sight of the 
greater and more abiding forces except as names to 
garnish paragraphs and tattle. But as far as he went, 
I found it refreshing to hear Dr. Leacock lay about him 
in his quick, outspoken way, and to find my suspicions 
verified that his wit is the outcome of deep sincerity 
and hard sense. Beyond the cynical autobiography he 
prints in front of "Sunshine Sketches," I know noth- 
ing of his career, but I should say that the gist of it 
has gone into that bitter indictment, "The Lot of the 
Schoolmaster," reprinted in his essays. To take up 
the challenge he there throws down on behalf of the 
humbler walks of an ill-paid profession would be dar- 
ing and difficult ; to endorse it is unnecessary. One can 



2i6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

only quote and quote again, or refer the reader to the 
paper itself ; and if that is the case with his criticism, 
it is certainly the same with his other writings, 
facetious or otherwise. One of the best of his crit- 
ical papers he devotes to a generous laudation of the 
late "O. Henry," and Mr. St. John Adcock quoted this 
in his admirable monograph in miniature in these 
pages. A classical training preserves the Professor 
from that looseness in terms which could allow 0. 
Henry to call a bow a 'genuflection' ; but, happily, years 
of concentrated study and drudgery have not lessened 
his rapid and prolific originality, while it has only 
deepened that sense of justice which he vents at times 
with such towering indignation. 

Too much emphasis has been laid on his faculty for 
parody, which is only one weapon after all in his well- 
filled armory. It seems only the other day that "Non- 
sense Novels" arrived to prove that a vogue in which 
Thackeray and Bret Harte excelled is still a living force 
in criticism, and that a Canadian professor is equal to 
either of those master-satirists in Uie power of turning 
the eccentricities of modern fiction against itself. If 
he turns on its practitioners as well, he is not content 
with mimicry of their accent and locutions, but tries 
to reconstitute their view-point, and always with an 
imperturbable good humor. You perceive very soon 
that, with him, the mimetic stage has never been more 
than a kind of reserve trench in the "big push*' against 
humbug and literary pretension, and tluit the parodist 
in this case is also a creative humorist of the first 
water. Certain critics rose, I remember, at his 
''Literary Lapses," and strained their arguments need- 
lessly without diminishing anything or anybody but 
themselves. Some of them complained that a western 
humorist without dialect or Bowery slang was an 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 217 

exotic, an importation from the East, and a geograph- 
ical contradiction, which is all pure nonsense. The 
Old World, as we have long discovered, enjoys no 
monopoly of wit. You cannot bring sense and non- 
sense into collision without striking a tell-tale spark, 
and whether the clash occurs on this side of the Atlan- 
tic or the other, the chances are that you will get the 
same kind of a spark from the same shape of head. 
If the longitude of Greenwich can produce university 
brilliance like that of a Hilton, a Godley, an Anstey 
or a "Q," there is no reason why the same perception 
of values and contradictions should not produce their 
equal in a Stephen Leacock, even in the longitude of 
McGill and tjie latitude of a political professorship. 
One of our author's fiercest assailants revealed him- 
self, I remember, in the book column of a lofty London 
daily, and showered out all the ineffable contempt this 
organ reserves for everything American except peer- 
esses and advertisements, and the American Ambas- 
sador; but presently, observing that the Times (which 
it hates like poison) had given up a segment of its 
Supplement to a consideration of Dr. Leacock's merits, 
this enlightened organ lay in ambush for his next book 
and then swamped it with green gush. But I hesitate 
to touch on the vagaries of reviewers when the Pro- 
fessor has turned them to such diverting account in 
his books ; they constitute a grand assault on all sorts 
of pests from the club bore and the platform quack to 
the cheap millionaire and the expensive lap-dog. That 
truly modern martyr's rack, the boarding house, has 
made a text for all the American masters of humor, 
from Holmes and Stockton to Wallace Irwin and 
George Ade, but none of them has touched off the 
horrors of the "hash bazaar" as deftly Ss our Professor 
has done. Years ago he wrote a series of Euclidean 



2i8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

axioms which appeared in Truth and then had a come- 
tary orbit of republication, from Punch downwards. 
Even now one hears the jest attributed to all sorts of 
brilliant mathematicians, dead and gone, and those who 
have ever met it in those cold shades of anonymity will 
recognize it from one example: 

"If there be two boarders on the same flat, and the 
amount of side of the one be equal to the amount of 
side of the other, each to each, and the wrangle between 
one boarder and the landlady be equal to the wrangle 
between the landlady and the other, then shall the 
weekly bills of the two boarders be equal also, each 
to each. For, if not, let one bill be the greater. Then 
the other bill is less than it might have been, which is 

absurd.'' 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It is usual to greet a new writer with discourage- 
ment, just as the astronomer tackles a new sun-spot 
through a smoked glass. One cannot find that, on the 
whole, Professor Leacock has ever met with want of 
recognition, certainly since he first appeared in print; 
and, indeed, he is not the sort of person to have suf- 
fered from it i f he had. But I have no doubt that, like 
the pearl in ^Esop's fable, he has been pecked with the 
query as to why he wasn't something else? Carlyle 
chilled William Black after his twentieth successful 
novel or so, with the brutal inquiry as to when he was 
going to do some **worrk," and there are doubtless 
people who ask our author when he is going to write 
a sequential book, instead of a series of fugitive chap- 
ters. Well, there is "Sunshine Sketches" on the one 
hand, a racy presentation of a typical western town and 
its inhabitants, and on the other there is the 
"Elements," already dealt with; and if it were not for 
the matter of date, one might even suppose that treatise 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 219 

had been written in reply to this very taunt. The Pro- 
fessor's humor is certainly equal to this riposte or any 
other. He believes, with Erasmus, in saying even seri- 
ous things lightly; and he has loudly proclaimed he 
would rather have written **Alice in Wonderland'' than 
the whole of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." That is 
also why, like Garrick in the picture, he may be torn 
between comedy and tragedy, but at least he smiles 
under the ordeal. Such is the effect of a true concep- 
tion of the office of humor in a miscellaneous firmament 
of bounty. In an unpublished essayette he once re- 
marked that it is "better to take your place humbly and 
resignedly in the lowest ranks of the republic of letters 
than to try to go circling around on your own poor 
wings in the vast spaces of Milton's 'Paradise,' or the 
great circles of Dante's 'Inferno.' " The individual 
modesty of this is balanced by the fact that he stands 
up handsomely for the craft of humor and his brethren 
who follow it. A member, as he says himself, of the 
Royal Colonial Institute and the Church of England, he 
does not hesitate to remind us in another fragment 
somewhere else that it is "much harder to write one 
of Owen Seaman's 'funny' poems in Punch than to 
write one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermons" ; 
and that whereas, in his immortal hymn, Newman only 
cried out for light in the gloom of a sad world, Dickens 
gave it. Which is profoundly true, as far as it goes. 
One might pursue indefinitely this contrast in the man 
which is characteristic of so many true artists — 3, 
passion for the vindication of his calling, whatever the 
niche that is allotted to himself. 

On an occasion lately which should have been enough 
to tempt the humblest of men to glorify himself for 
once, Dr. Leacock showed some anxiety to stay in the 
background with his books, and to set in front of them 



220 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

a masterpiece of his special predilection — ^his son and 
namesake of a year old, and his second self. Of this 
prodigy he remarks that he is "guaranteed to eat more, 
sleep deeper, shout longer, and cry harder than any 
boy of his age in the British dominions outside of 
Zululand." I beg to leave that challenge as it stands 
with all its unnecessary reservations on its head, and 
to leave its author at the mercy of a mjrriad progenitors 
prepared to take it up ; but at least the episode illustrates 
the idiosyncrasy of authors that their pride invariably 
lies far outside the circle of your conjecture. Let me 
conclude with another fragment from the Professor's 
pen, which strikes me as truer and deeper than anything 
ever written by Professor Bergson or Professor Pog- 
son on laughter or free will or anything else : 

"The world's humor in its best and greatest sense is 
perhaps the highest product of our civilization. One 
thinks here not of the mere spasmodic efforts of the 
comic artist or the black-face expert of the vaudeville 
show, but of the really great humor which once or 
twice in a generation at best, illtuninates and elevates 
our literature. And here, in its larger aspect, humor 
is blended with pathos till the two are one, and repre- 
sent as they have in every age the mingled heritage of 
tears and laughter that is our lot on earth." 

Personally, it remains only to indicate a fund of 
unutterable thanks for the pure and healthy enjoyment 
that Dr. Leacock's books have given me for years. If 
I were called in to prescribe for the restoration of 
Europe after this present convalescence, I should pre- 
scribe the free circulation of an unlimited number of 
his books at Germany's expense, in all languages and 
dominions outside the circle of the Central Powers, 
with a strict embargo on their entering the land of the 
Huns. They deserve it. 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 221 

Mr. Collins writes of Dr, Leacock's rapid and pro- 
lific originality as having survived his classical training, 
and infers that he was also immune to that '^looseness 
in terms" which his native American brothers (O, 
Henry for example) reveal. True. Yet Dr. Leacodc's 
training does not save him from being a careless writer, 
and often a dull one. That, of course, is not to dis- 
parage his best work, which is all that Mr. Collins 
writes of it, but it is only to ssrmpathize with him in 
the enforced production of his worst — a blight of which 
most of us are conscious. 

As to what Stephen Leacock thinks of himself, and 
the somewhat orderly and chronological procession of 
his life, let me give it in his own words : 

I know no way in which a writer may more fittingly 
introduce his work to the public than by giving a brief 
account of who and what he is. By this means some 
of the blame for what he has done is very properly 
shifted to the extenuating circumstances of his life. 

I was born at Swamoor, Hants, England, on Decem- 
ber 30, 1869. I am not aware that there was any 
particular conjunction of the planets at that time, but 
should think it extremely likely. My parents migrated 
to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them. My 
father took up a farm near Lake Simcoe, in Ontario. 
This was during the hard times of Canadian farming, 
and my father was just able, by great diligence, to pay 
the hired men and, in years of plenty, to raise enough 
grain to have seed enough for the next year's crop 
without buying any. By this process my brothers and 
I were inevitably driven off the land, and have become 
professors, business men, and engineers, instead of 
being able to grow up as farm laborers. Yet I saw 



222 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

enough of farming to speak exuberantly in political 
addresses of the joy of early rising and the deep sleep, 
both of body and intellect, that is induced by honest 
manual toil. 

I was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, 
of which I was head boy in 1887. From there I went 
to the University of Toronto, where I graduated in 
1891. At the University I spent my entire time in the 
acquisition of languages, living, dead, and half-dead, 
and knew nothing of the outside world. In this dil- 
igent pursuit of words I spent about sixteen hours of 
each day. Very soon after graduation I had forgotten 
the languages, and found myself intellectually bank- 
rupt. In other words, I was what is called a distin- 
guished graduate, and as such, I took to school 
teaching as the only trade I could find that needed 
neither experience nor intellect. I spent my time from 
1 89 1 to 1899 on the staff of the Upper Canada Col- 
lege, an experience which has left me with a profound 
sympathy for the many gifted and brilliant men who 
are compelled to spend their lives in the most dreary, 
the most thankless, and the worst paid profession in 
the world. I have noted that, of my pupils, those who 
seem the laziest and the least enamored of books, are 
now rising to eminence at the bar, in business, and in 
public life; the really promising boys who took all the 
prizes are now able with difficulty to earn the wages 
of a clerk in a summer hotel or a deck hand on a canal 
boat. 

In 1899, I gave up school teaching in disgust, bor- 
rowed enough money to live on for a few months, and 
went to the University of Chicago to study economics 
and political science. I was soon appointed to a Fel- 
lowship in political economy, and by means of this and 
some temporary employment at McGill University, I 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 223 

survived until I took the degree of Doctor of Philos- 
ophy in 1903. The meaning of this degree is that the 
recipient of instruction is examined for the last time in 
his life, and is pronounced completely full. After this, 
no new ideas can be imparted to him. 

From this time, and since my marriage, which had 
occurred at this period, I have belonged to the staff of 
McGill University, first as lecturer in Political Science, 
and later as head of the department of Economics and 
Political Science. As this position is one of the prizes 
of my profession, I am able to regard myself as sin- 
gularly fortunate. The emolument is so high as to 
place me distinctly above the policemen, postmen, 
street-car conductors, and other salaried officials of the 
neighborhood, while I am able to mix with the poorer 
of the business men of the city on terms of something 
like equality. In point of leisure, I enjoy more in the 
four corners of a single year than a business man 
knows in his whole life. I thus have what the business 
man can never enjoy, an ability to think, and, what is 
still better, to stop thinking for months at a time. 

I have written a number of things in connection with 
my college life — a book on Political Science, and many 
essays, magazine articles, and so on. I belong to the 
Political Science Association of America, to the Royal 
Colonial Institute, and to the Church of England. 
These things, surely, are a proof of respectability. I 
have had some small connection with politics and pub- 
lic life. A few years ago I went all around the British 
Empire delivering addresses on Imperial organization. 
When I state that these lectures were followed almost 
immediately by the Union of South Africa, the Banana 
Riots in Trinidad, and the Turco-Anglican War, I 
think the reader can form some idea of their impor- 
tance. In Canada, I belong to the Conservative party, 



224 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

but as yet I have failed entirely in Canadian politics, 
never having received a contract to build a bridge, or 
make a wharf, nor to construct even the smallest section 
of the Transcontinental Railway. This, however, is 
a form of national ingratitude to which one becomes 
accustomed in this Dominion. 

Apart from my college work, I have written six 
books. All of these are published by John Lane (Lon- 
don and New York), and any of them can be obtained, 
absurd though it sounds, for the mere sum of one 
dollar or a dollar and twenty-five cents. Yet these 
works are of so humorous a character that, for many 
years, it was found impossible to print them. The 
compositors fell back from their task suffocated with 
laughter and gasping for air. Nothing but the inven- 
tion of the linotype machine — or rather, of the kind of 
men who operate it — made it possible to print these 
books. Even now, people have to be very careful in 
circulating them, and the books never should be put 
into the hands of persons not in robust health. 

Many of my friends are under the impression that I 
write these humorous nothings in idle moments, when 
the wearied brain is unable to perform the serious 
labors of the economist. My own experience is exactly 
the other way. The writing of solid, instructive stuff, 
fortified by facts and figures, is easy enough. There 
is no trouble in writing a scientific treatise on the folk- 
lore of Central China, or a statistical inquiry into the 
declining population of Prince Edward Island. But 
to write something out of one's own mind, worth read- 
ing for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only 
to be achieved in fortunate moments, few and far be- 
tween. Personally, I would sooner have written "Alice 
in Wonderland" than the whole ''Encydopaedia 
Britannica." 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 225 

So much for Professor Stephen Leacock of McGill 
University and Canadian-American, or American- 
Canadian humorist, as you will. But a much more in- 
timate view of him is given by an anon3rmous writer 
who, under the pseudonym, "A Canadian Soldier" 
writes (in the Bodleian) "An Impudent Sketch of the 
Professor" : 

There are three persons of my acquaintance whose 
signatures absolutely defy interpretation; one of them 
is a professor of philosophy whom I shall not name; 
the second is an officer in the Canadian Army, whom I 
dare not name, and the third is — Stephen Leacock. 
We do not say Doctor Leacock or Professor Leacock, 
though, when I was a boy, that was how he was known. 
It would now seem as absurd as does speaking of the 
ex-President of the United States as Doctor Wilson. 

He is now Stephen Leacock, or just Leacock, and 
will be so long as his books are printed, and read, and 
known. Already he is growing into a "phrase." An 
article appeared in the Daily Chronicle not long ago 
speaking of the "Peacock Cult" of a past generation. 
I doubt if many are familiar to-day with that eccentric 
author's books. For myself I can only remember them 
as an immaculately clean set of volumes, uniformly 
bound in spotless red art cloth, standing in inenviable 
peace, undisturbed year after year upon the Library 
shelves. 

The Library. — I do not refer to any private library, 
but to the Library of McGill University at Montreal, 
where as a boy I was employed, and where I first met 
the author of "Literary Lapses." At the beginning of 
my time there he was known as the author (if one ever 
thought of him as an author at all) of "Elements of 



226 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Political Science" and of another book which treats of 
Canadian politics, published in the "Makers of Canada" 
Series. But now who thinks of him as other than in 
connection with the "Arcadian Adventures" or the 
"Larger Lunacy"? 

He was, of course, and is, I imagine still, a daily 
figure in the Library, where his deep resonant voice 
and his gruflF, peculiar manner sometimes caused con- 
fusion to the staflF, which always afforded me intense 
satisfaction. His method of signing his name, when 
he left a receipt for a book which he wished to borrow, 
was considered very "liberal." For as I have already 
hinted, Stephen Leacock's signature is like a Hindoo 
mystery — it transcends explanation. 

I was quite a youngster at the time, and was at much 
confusion of mind between these two questions : "Does 
one write badly because one is clever; or is one clever 
because one writes badly?" I had no known reason 
for my belief in Dr. Leacock's "cleverness," for po- 
litical science leaves little of an overawing impression 
upon a lad of twelve, but somehow the Hindoo soul 
of that indecipherable signature, which conveyed to 
my physical being nothing whatever but the image of 
a long-legged spider squashed by a merciless thumb, 
haunted me, until I decided the matter finally for my- 
self by asking the Professor to give me an autog^ph 
for my cherished collection. And it rests now, still 
undecipherable in its unshamed illegibility, among my 
favorite names. Every little while I take it out and 
look at it, and wonder, as Thomas Bailey Aldrich did 
over his friend's letter, if the day will come when I 
shall be able to make it out. 

Dr. Leacock gave a number of the lectures of his 
course in one of the upper rooms of the Library, and 
when three o'clock came round it was no unusual thing 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 227 

to see him, a host of books and papers under his arm, 
make giant and hasty strides into the Library to the 
delivery counter. I was always there ready for him. 
With great excitement I made note of his quick in- 
structions and, a few moments later, breathless and 
aglow, I would follow him to his lecture-room, loaded 
down with the reference books for which he had asked. 
It was to me the height of satisfaction to be able to 
give him the books that he wanted without obliging 
him first to hunt for them in the card catalogue, and 
it was probably my evident eagerness to please him 
that earned for me his friendly recognition. It became 
a byword in the Library that whenever Dr. Leacock 
wanted anything in a hurry (and he always wanted 
books in a hurry) he called for "the boy." So much 
so was it that it became his habit to trust me with tasks 
which were beyond my power to perform, such as 
looking up statistics, population returns, immigration 
figures, etc., etc. And, in spite of my zeal, it was with 
more than a sinking of the heart that I approached that 
formidable and seemingly endless collection of 
pumpkin-colored volumes which constitute the statutes 
of the Dominion of Canada. I spent many a weary 
hour thus in tearful confusion, and I imagine that in 
most cases the figures that I did eventually secure were 
not correct. But Professor Leacock was invariably 
most kind, and my remuneration measured in his esti- 
mation with the time I had spent upon my task, and 
not with the extent of its results. I blush still when 
I think of those liberal dollars that he gave me from 
time to time for my services, and that I so little earned. 
But with the coming of **Literary Lapses'' Dr. Lea- 
cock appeared before me in an altogether different light. 
His familiar figure assumed a new meaning. His fine, 
grave face, that boy's mop of hair that always looks 



228 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

as if it had just been washed the night before, and 
simply refused to be brushed, the deep vibrating tones 
of his voice, and his peculiar stride had always appealed 
strongly to me. But I realized now with a new glow 
that I actually knew him, that I numbered among my 
acquaintances one who belonged to that group, thrice 
blessed, in my imagination, of men who write ! 

Publishing a textbook on Political Science was not 
writing in my estimation, but it was indeed being an 
author if one could produce such a book as "Literary 
Lapses,'* and such screamingly funny sketches as "My 
Financial Career." 

One evening I was left alone in the Library in charge 
of the reading-room. There were quite a number of 
students in that evening, but for me there was little 
work to do. A friendly student lent me a copy of 
"Literary Lapses," which had just been published. I 
read it, but didn't quite understand. Was this Lea- 
cock? Then what a new Leacock to me! I was 
amused, soon I was convulsed, and very shortly after- 
wards had to desert my post to laugh in shameless 
noisiness in the furnace-room downstairs. To this day 
I cannot begin reading, "Whenever I go into a bank I 
get rattled" without the memory of that night coming 
over me, and how I disgraced myself by breaking the 
awful stillness, over which I myself should have been 
the stern sentinel, with my uncontrollable mirth. 

From that time onward I have read Leacock. Long 
before his articles were published in book form I knew 
them as they appeared in the magazines and periodical 
publications. I always knew where to find them. The 
University magazine, a very dignified and academic 
publication, became readable in my eyes only when it 
published, "The Apology for the Professor." 

But it was with the "Arcadian Adventures with the 



STEPHEN LEACOCK 229 

Idle Rich" that I began to see something deeper in Dr. 
Leacock's writings besides a mere sense of fun. And 
as Peacock laughed at Coleridge with a purpose, so I 
saw their affinity. And although I do not always agree 
with Dr. Leacock, I have to laugh with him, too. 

For he is inimitable. He is Mark Twain and Arte- 
mus Ward; he is Josh Billings and Sam Slick (The 
Clockmaker), he is Dickens — but above all he is Lea- 
cock, and nobody else is quite like him. What valu- 
able services he has rendered to Political Science must 
be recorded in the publications devoted to that laudable 
subject. But just as Charles Dodgson, the mathe- 
matician, is overshadowed by Lewis Carroll, the author 
of "Alice," so will Professor Leacock, the Political 
Scientist, be overshadowed by that larger personality, 
Stephen Leacock, the Humorist. 

It is platitude to explain that in employing this term 
one is merely saying Humanist with a smile. For a 
Humorist is above all that also. A question of title, 
however, has but an insignificant interest when dealing 
with Stephen Leacock. 

I remember being present at a large students' gather- 
ing at McGill University when an incident occurred 
which I think gives the ke)nnote to what I have been 
trying to bring forth in this sketch. I forget what 
the meeting was about. I can remember only that, 
at a given moment, the entire audience rose and shouted 
with one voice : "We want Stevie !*' 

Stephen Leacock's public, I think, has the same 
desire. It does not worry much about his title. It 
reads his books as they appear, then cries out to 
"Stevie" that it must have more. 



CHAPTER XXII 

C. B. LEWIS 
("M QUAD") 

IN that wise and charming book entitled "The Opin- 
ions of Anatole France" — ^a book that I can 
heartily recommend to every struggling writer — 
M. France deliberately removes the props from many 
preconceived ideas about literature in general. "Now 
what is a scholar?" he asks and replies: "A deadly 
creature who studies and publishes, on principle, every- 
thing that is fundamentally uninteresting." He de- 
clares that all the great men were bad writers, and that 
their reputations for doing a particular thing changed 
from generation to generation. The real point is, of 
course, that there is no rule to writing, and instead of 
saying that the style is the man we might just as well 
say that the man is the style. 

And what ought to cheer up every writer, so far 
as America is concerned, is that it is such a big country, 
and if you have really an3rthing to say, you can always 
get some of the people to listen to you. Also, the peo- 
ple who are listening to you may be very much more 
important than those who are listening to some one 
else who thinks himself much more important than 
you are. Here is M. France, one of the first writers 

230 



C B. LEWIS 231 

in the world, coming down to first principles, just as 
M. Renan remarked that, after reading and reflecting 
for thirty years or more, he found that the first street 
gamin he met knew as much as he did. "For my part," 
declares M. France, "I have no excessive confidence 
in reason. I know how weak and tottering it is." 

Now the same thing is true of style, or literary 
talent. The great things of the world have been said, 
not by clever people but by great people. If in his 
youth Abraham Lincoln had taken lessons in style from 
Walter Pater, he never could have written the Gettys- 
burg address. So it seems to me that, in our judgments 
of men who write, we must consider many more things 
than mere smartness. In this book, for example, there 
are gathered together an incongruous company of 
humorists. I have no doubt that many among the so- 
called intelligentsia have never heard of Mr. Lewis, or 
if they have, would scorn to read anything he has 
written. Also, there are probably, especially among 
the younger, a number of whom Mr. Lewis himself 
has never heard, or if he has — ^but I shall not pursue 
this painful subject further. I am already in too deep. 

The fact is that Mr. Lewis, take him for all in all, ^ 
is one of the most remarkable men of this period. Over 
a quarter of a century ago I was a cub editor and had 
the weekly pleasure of passing his copy through the 
typographical mill. I recall quite vividly his Bowser 
sketches, and his weekly story of adventure, and the 
astonishing clarity of his copy, written with scarcely 
an error, week after week. Suddenly there came the 
"Arizona Kicker," I think the first of its kind — that^ 
is to say, that kind of satire on the American western 



232 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

editor, recently become more common, filled with the 
most robust humor, side-splitting often in its primitive 
revelings. And here is Mr. Lewis, after all these years, 
still at it — ^truly an immortal ! The oldest and chccr- 
f ulest humorist in the United States ! Perhaps, indeed, 
the only cheerful one ! The following sketch of him 
has kindly been supplied to me by his son. 

The Anecdotal Side of M. Quad 

At the Age of Eighty the Creator of ^^ Bowser^ is 
Still in the Journalistic Saddle and Going Strong 

BY J. SEYMOUR WALLY 

Probably the easiest man in the world to interview 
is Charles B. Lewis, better known as M. Quad, the 
famous humorist, who has made a million homes rock 
with laughter over his Bowser stories, his Lime Kiln 
Club philosophy, and the escapades of the "Arizona 
Kicker/' All that is necessary to secure enough copy 
for the whole Sunday edition of a newspaper is to 
hand Quad a long cigar — ^the blacker and stronger it 
is the better. Mention the city of Detroit, and ht will 
talk to you until a big collie comes around and noses 
the old man as a hint that it is time to stop such non- 
sense and think of the more important matter of dinner. 
That canine is the apple of Mr. Lewis's eye, and you 
may put away your pad and pencil and make your 
best exit bow when the dog shows signs of hunger. 

At the very ripe old age of eighty the creator of 
"Mr. and Mrs. Bowser" is still at work supplying a 
New York syndicate with six columns of humor weekly. 
He is never at a loss for a funny idea, dictates his 



C B. LEWIS 233 

copy as rapidly as the typist can take it on the machine, 
and says he could furnish a whole pa^e daily if there 
were any call for his articles by the wholesale. Since 
he began writing for the Detroit Free Press, some 
sixty years ago, he has never written less than a column 
a day, besides furnishing many special articles, and 
incidentally turning out a book or a play just to keep 
in working order. His career as a playwright, how- 
ever, was short and not sweet. During the rehearsal 
of Mr. Lewis's first and only drama the villain in the 
play reported in an intoxicated condition and thrashed 
the entire cast, including the brave hero, and the 
humorist decided then and there to write exclusively for 
his newspaper. M. Quad has never forgotten his work 
and friends in the Michigan city. When he talks of 
Detroit one can see that he longs for the days when he 
filled the job of reporter, editor, humorist and ad- 
vertising salesman all at the one time. 

"We had to hustle back in those days," smiled the 
author, in telling of his early career in journalism. "I 
wrote my regular column of humor in the morning, 
edited copy and drummed up advertising in the after- 
noon, and worked as an all-around reporter in the 
evening up to midnight. When I received my eighteen 
per on Saturday it seemed a princely salary, but I felt 
that I had earned it. I well remember that when this 
sum was increased to $25, owing to a big scoop I had 
put over, I used to lie awake nights and wonder if 
the paper could possibly stand the terrific financial 
strain. One day William E. Quinby, the beloved boss 
and owner of the Free Press, turned me loose on 
humor alone, and boosted my wages to such a figure 
that I trembled every time a stranger entered the 
office, thinking he might have come from the Sheriff's 
to close us out; and it was only after I learned that I 



234 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

was working for one of the richest newspapers in the 
country that I could get the proper sleep." 

Asked about his fads and favorite sports in his 
younger days, the eighty-year-old humorist smilingly 
continued : 

"I think my greatest out-door sport in those days 
was in painting my house on Pitcher Street, for I 
dearly loved to see our frame domicile looking as 
bright as a new penny. It was great fun, too, to 
wield the brush and originate new shades to astonish 
the natives. The very smell of the 'turps' made me 
think of spring and robins and romance, and I always 
left the task and started for the office full of inspira- 
tion — ^and paint. I beautified that house with linseed 
and white lead every summer regularly, and while I 
had numerous escapes from falling off the roof and 
ruined many a good suit of clothes, I smeared away 
annually until the neighbors held an indignation meet- 
ing and planned to ride me out of town on a rail if 
I didn't stop it. You see, I had the whole neighbor- 
hood working overtime, for one newly painted house 
will make all the other homes around look shabby. Of 
course I took the hint, being a poor equestrian, but it 
was some time before I felt that it was safe to go out 
at night, for fear some one might throw a brickbat, 
and thereafter the outside appearance of my house was 
no concern of mine. 

**When the dance craze hit Detroit I became so 
enthusiastic over that indoor sport that I hired an uncle 
of mine, who was a carpenter out of work, to build 
an upper addition on the house for use as a private 
dance-hall. I agreed to pay him $io per week and 
board for his superior knowledge with the saw, but he 
hadn't lived with us long before we realized we had 
taken in the champion eater of Michigan. He also 



C B. LEWIS 23s 

could out-snore any human being in the country, and 
between the midnight serenades and the awful wallops 
the grocery money was getting, I began to wonder if 
dancing wasn't as wicked as the ministers proclaimed 
it. While he was pounding and measuring, I also hired 
a colored youth to teach me clog-dancing at $1 per 
lesson, so that I could show our guests something novel 
when it came to 'balance your partner.* It took one 
solid year to build that addition, and it was one year 
to the minute before I could do the most simple clog, 
and I have always thought that the coon and the 
carpenter put their heads together and figured it out 
that I would stand the financial strain about that length 
of time. 

"Every one for blocks around attended the first dance 
in the new hall, and I shall never forget the shrieks 
of laughter and yells of terror when I let out a war- 
-whoop and began to clog. In my endeavors to show 
those folks a thing or two I ripped off evening gowns 
and trod on tender toes and finally landed on my back 
in a cloud of dust, but what hurt me most was the 
fact that most of the guests departed without saying 
*good-night.' 

"I ached for just one more chance to show my skill 
with the boot, but the prayers and pleadings of my 
family prevailed, and I promised to take only the part 
of a wall-flower at the dances thereafter. I cannot 
claim to have originated the short-skirt, but I will 
insist that my cavort de nouvel, as they would say in 
Paris, furnished the idea that finally led to them. 
Probably that dance-hall stands to-day, but it used to 
shake and wobble so when eight or ten couples waltzed 
over its floor that we all doubled our life insurance and 
opened the weekly dance with prayer." 

M. Quad got his start as a humorist after he had 



236 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

been blown up on a Mississippi steamboat, for while 
he was convalescing in a hospital after the accident 
he wrote a story entitled ;. " How It Feels to Be 
Blown Up," that was copied all over the world and 
made him famous as a funnyman. Here is his account 
of that aerial affair: 

"The managing editor seemed to think I needed a 
little vacation, so he sent me South during one of the 
hottest summers Detroit had ever known to cover a 
mysterious murder in Louisville. Baked to a cinder, 
and feeling quite sure that I was now immune from 
any climate I might find in the hereafter, I was return- 
ing home on the bow of an old side- wheeler when she 
blew up with a bang, from an overheated boiler, and 
the fun began. The last I remember as we went sky- 
ward were the yells of terror and fervent prayers of 
an old darkey who took the flight alongside of me, 
and when I leaned over his bedside two weeks later 
in the hospital he was still rolling his eyeballs and 
praying. 

" 'Cheer up. Uncle Tom,' I tried to assure him, 
*youVe all right now and will soon be well again.' 

" 'Go 'way, boy/ he advised me in husky tones. *Go 
'way down in de Co'nfield an' hide yo'self . Ize a big 
long skyrocket bound fo' de moon, an' yo' bettah keep 
out o' my path fo' I sizzles yo\' 

"Shortly after the explosion my 'corpse' was duly 
laid out on the banks of the river alongside the other 
victims, my wife notified by wire to hunt for mourning 
bargains, and Bowser would never have had a publicity 
man had it not been for a morbid native, who came 
to the big show, discovered a twitching of my eyelids, 
and was thoughtful enough to report such a trivial 
matter to the doctors. 

''My enemies have always claimed that not until a 



C B. LEWIS 237 

full quart of rye was poured into my system would I 
show signs of life, and that my first words were, *more, 
please/ but I want to state it as a fact that just one 
bucket of black Mississippi river water thrown over me 
had the desired effect, and that my first words cannot 
be found in the hymn-books. My story, *How It 
Feels to Be Blown Up,' pleased the managing-editor 
so much that he wired me to get kicked by a mule or 
run over by a steam-roller and rush another good 
story, but I refused to consider it. I had gone up, but 
I had been lucky enough to remain whole and come 
down again, and I proposed to stick around for a 
while with two feet on the earth. In fact, for a year 
or two afterwards, I would not even cross the river 
on a ferryboat, job or no job." 

Mr. Lewis keeps cheerful despite the fact that he is 
a victim of rheumatism and has been somewhat of a 
cripple for the past fifteen years. Seldom does he get 
further than the front gate of his home on an outing 
and then only by the aid of a long staff. Since the 
death of his wife about fifteen years ago he has lived 
with his son and daughter-in-law in Borough Park, 
Brooklyn, and his granddaughter writes his copy from 
dictation on the typewriter and carries it to the S3nidi- 
cate each week. 

I had almost succeeded in starting the humorist on 
another story when the collie began to bark and walk 
about my chair in a suspicious manner, and I took the 
hint. The last I saw of M. Quad he was smoothing 
the beautiful coat of his chum and assuring the dog 
that there was roast beef for dinner and they would 
divide it "fifty-fifty,'' as usual. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

ROY L. McCARDELL 
BY R. L. MCCARDELL 

ROY LARCOM McCARDELL believes, like 
all modern men and women, that he has a strong 
sense of humor, but isn't so sure he is a 
humorist 

He comes of a newspaper and writing family con- 
nection, and a livelihood in journalism has, in conse- 
quence, been gained by him along the lines of least 
resistance. 

A great aunt and namesake was Lucy Larcom, the 
poetess; although all he remembers of her work is 
fugitive bits from "Hannah Binding Shoes/' and just 
how shoes were bound or why, he has but the vaguest 
idea. Another great aunt of literary renown, although 
a lesser light than Lucy Larcom, was Maria Louisa 
Eve, of Augusta, Georgia, a Southern poetess of at 
least local repute and of the didactic, Mrs. Sigoumey 
and Southern Messenger school. 

Roy L. McCardeirs father, Capt. Thomas F. 
McCardell, was a noted Maryland editor and Demo- 
cratic-reform leader. The elder McCardell was some- 
time editorial writer on the Baltimore American and 
Pittsburg Dispatch, and later editor of the Cumberland 

238 



ROY L. McCARDELL 239 

(Md.) Daily News and Evening Times. Of the latter 
newspaper, Capt. McCardell was the owner for some 
years, and it was, and most likely still is, the leading 
daily of Maryland, maugre such Baltimore papers as 
the American and Sun. 

Besides all this, his father's brother, Willoughby 
McCardell, was for forty years the editor and owner 
of the Williamsport (Md.) Leader, and two of his 
maternal uncles, Charles and Dorsey Eve, were noted 
Southern editors and writers, long connected, respec- 
tively, with Asheville, North Carolina, and Richmond^ 
Virginia, newspapers. 

Roy L. McCardell was bom in Hagerstown, Mary- 
land, June 30, 1870, his father being the editor of 
the Hagerstown Mail at the time. Later, his father 
was made the editor of the Evening Times, Cumber- 
land, Maryland, and the family moved to that city — 
the second in size in Maryland. 

Roy McCardell attended the public schools of Cum- 
berland until he was twelve. He had been an om- 
nivorous reader as long as he could remember — 
devouring Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, Dumas, Bulwer 
Lytton, Lover, Lever, Shakespeare and all the poets, 
not to mention dime novels and nickel libraries. 

At twelve he decided that, although he was weak in 
spelling, mathematics and grammar, he was so well 
informed in reading, history and geography, he might 
conclude his schooling and go his way in the world. 

He also determined to go the way of all flesh in his 
family and become a newspaper man. In such a career 
he could not see where his weakness in spelling, gram- 
mar or mathematics would be any drawback. The 



240 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

copy desk would correct his spelling and faulty gram- 
mar, and, as for mathematics, what writer has to keq) 
books? 

At twelve McCardell had contributed some satires 
of scholastic significance to a school paper, and had 
narrowly escaped being expelled. During the stmimer 
vacation that followed he demanded at least one of the 
Evening Times' tickets to the circuses, the baseball 
games and Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and, in return, 
reported these amusement events for his father's paper 
in a satisfactory manner, after the grammar and spell- 
ing of his articles had been amended and corrected. 
He was in no sense hypercritical in his reviews, his 
critkjues being unvaryingly favorable and commenda- 
tory. 

At about this time, Puck, edited by the late Henry 
Cuyler Bunner, was the most popular paper of na- 
tional circulation, holding a place in general esteem 
about parallel to that held nowadays by the Saturday 
Evening Post. 

Young McCardell had a penchant for writing light 
verse and, at about this time, he had written some 
rhymes for his father's paper on baseball as Tennyson 
would have reported it, and the issue of Puck of the 
following week, the late R. K. Munkittrick had writ- 
ten parodies on the same theme and the same poet. 

Well meaning but doubtless falsely flattering friends 
made comments on the coincidence, to the advantage 
of the younger versifier. But he knew better then, as 
now. 

However, it encouraged him to send his next batch 
of verses to Puck and, to his great happiness, they 



ROY L. McCARDELL 241 

were accepted. From that on, almost up to the time 
when Puck fell into the hands of Hearst, and then 
gave up the ghost, young McCardell was a constant 
contributor to Puck, both in prose and verse. 

When he was seventeen he went to Birmingham,. 
Alabama, and applied for and obtained a position on 
the reportorial staff of the Age-Herald, of that city^ 
one of the leading journals of the South. 

He reported hangings, lynchings, riots and other 
social affairs, for Birmingham was a lively city, in a 
bright and cheerful style, and also contributed sketches 
of local color — generally concerning the colored popu- 
lation — and verses on current events of local interest 
to the Sunday edition of the Age-Herald and as fillers 
for the editorial page. 

Many of these ephemera were copied in Current 
Literature, Leslie's Weekly and other periodicals of 
clipping propensities, including the New York news- 
papers, especially the Sun and Evening Sun, 

The Evening Sun was then edited by Arthur Bris- 
bane and had on its staff such youths of promise of 
Richard Harding Davis, Mickey Finn, Mortimer 
McMichael 3rd, John Harrington, Acton Davies, W. 
S. Moody and Frederick Gregg. 

Henry Gallup Paine, then assistant editor of Puck,. 
and later, editor of Harper's Weekly, recom- 
mended to Arthur Brisbane that he might give young 
McCardell a try-out on his staff, and Brisbane wrote, 
offering $15 a week. Young McCardell was getting 
$25 a week on the Birmingham Age-Herald, but New 
York was worth the difference. 

He came on at once to the Evening Sun and was 



242 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

assigned to cover the Tombs Police Court's morning 
sessions. Judge Duffy, and other notable Tammany 
humorists of Hibernian extraction were on the police 
court bench in those days, and all a reporter needed to 
do was to "play straight," as they say in vaudeville. 

McCardell supplemented his htmiorous and "human 
interest" police court reports of the morning by the 
merry-thoughts, so to speak, that he had of afternoons. 
His Evening Sun burlesque dime novels, such as 
"Ironbound Ed, the Elevator Boy; or, from* the Bot- 
tom to the Top," and his parodies of Laura Jean 
Libbey's deathless works — ^and Laura Jean was then 
at the zenith of her vogue — ^gained him both esteem 
from the Evening Sun's readers and innumerable raises 
of salary from his appreciative editor, Arthur 
Brisbane. 

From the Evening Sun McCardell went to the New 
York World, and from the World to the staff of Puck 
to work with and associate with such notables as 
Bunner, Harry Leon Wilson, H. G. Paine, F. Opper, 
C. J. Taylor, Louis Dalrymple, James L. Ford, John 
Kendrick Bangs, R. K. Munkittrick, W. C. Gibson 
and Harold McGrath, artists, editors and visiting con- 
tributors. 

While on Puck he contributed to all the leading 
magazines and periodicals and kept in touch with Park 
Row journalism. In the summer of 1896 he learned 
that the New York World had built a color press and 
contemplated issuing a woman's fashion supplement 
in colors. Morrill Goddard, since editor of the New 
York Sunday American, was then editor of the Sunday 
World. McCardell suggested to him that the Sunday 



ROY L. McCARDELL 243 

World first experiment with a comic supplement in 
color. Goddard approved of the idea but ascertained 
that all the comic artists of reputation were under con- 
tract with Life, Judge or Puck, But McCardell knew 
of a young free-lance comic artist of much originality, 
in the person of Richard F. Outcault, and he brought 
Outcault to Goddard, and Goddard turned over the 
first issues of his novelty supplement to the two young 
men ; although he closely supervised it. 

The first Sunday paper to put out a comic supple- > 
ment in color was the issue of the Sunday World of 
November 6th, 1896. At that time the circulation of 
the Sunday World was about 140,000 copies. The 
colored comic supplement — ^the famous "Yellow Kid" 
was an outgrowth of its first issues — ^was received 
with loud acclaim and high favor, and at once seemed 
to fill a longf elt want with a lot of people. 

In six months the circulation of the Sunday World 
increased to 800,000. Then Hearst started a colored 
comic supplement with his New York Sunday Amer- 
ican, taking over Outcault; and, within a year, had a 
circulation of 400,000, the Sunday World's circulation 
dropping to the same figure. 

This was either evidence or proof that, in the area 
of Greater New York, just 800,000 people wanted 
colored comic supplements and no more. 

As suggester and first getter-out of a colored comic 
supplement, now an affliction with almost every big 
Sunday newspaper, McCardell gained neither riches 
nor renown ; but, on the other hand, the world at large 
has seemed to hold no animus against him regarding it. 

Since then McCardell has been connected, oflf and 



244 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

on, with almost every newspaper in New York, being 
one of the first editors of the New York Morning 
Telegraph, the Metropolitan Magazine, the Herald, the 
Telegram and others. 

In 1900 he began writing moving pictures^ and has 
since been identified with this new amusement art- 
industry as a writer of scenarios. He has written over 
a thousand in all, including the screen version of "A 
Fool There Was" that made the movie vampire an 
international institution. 

But it is as a prize winner that McCardell has func- 
tioned most successfully. He has been connected with 
the New York World as a special-article contributor 
for almost the whole time of his journalistic activities. 
The World continuously offers cash prizes for ideas 
and suggestions from its staff, and McCardell has 
more than often figured in the money — ^first, second or 
third prize. 

He has won short-story prizes in the Herald and 
Collier's competitions, and the Puck prize for the best 
humorous story printed in Puck in 191 6. 

In moving picture scenario prize contests he won 
the Morning Telegraph-Flamingo Film Company first 
prize of $1,000 for the best screen comedy manuscript, 
with a scenario entitled, "A Jay in Peacock Alley." 
He was one of the prize winners of the Evening Sun- 
Vitagraph contest with a five-reel scenario, "The Money 
Mill." 

In 1915 he won the American Film Company^hi- 
cago Tribune-New York Globe prize of $10,000 for 
the best scenario for a moving picture serial, from 
nearly 30,000 contestants. 



ROY L. McCARDELL 245 

His serial was entitled "The Diamond from the 
Sky/' and was shown to great profit for its promoters 
in over 8000 theaters in the United States, and is still 
going strong, after playing all Europe, in Asia and 
Africa. 

Mr. McCardell personally supervised the production 
of this picture, which was in sixty reels, the biggest 
moving picture ever taken. It was shown a la serial 
story, in two reel chapters. 

Mr. McCardell also won the Leaders of the World 
advertising prize for the best short advertisement 
phrases or slogans for 32 leading American adver- 
tisers' products — such as the Ford Automobile, the 
Remington Typewriter, Walk Over Shoes, Water- 
man Fountain Pen, Washburn-Crosby Flour, etc. He 
also won a new model Cadillac automobile offered by 
the makers to the owner of a car of that make who 
could give the best account of his satisfactory experi- 
ence with the same. 

He is the author of "The Gay Life/' a comedy pro- 
duced at Daly's Theatre in 1914, a half-dozen vaude- 
ville sketches, several popular songs, and contributes 
to the Saturday Evening Post and other leading maga- 
zines and periodicals. 

His newspaper and syndicated articles such as "The 
Chorus Girir **The Kind Kids Klub"— a burlesque 
"Children's Corner," "Mr. and Mrs. Nagg," "The Jan- 
Family," etc. Of all these, his daily "Jarr Family" 
stories have been the most durable, having run contin- 
uously in the Evening World, and in several hundred 
other papers, in syndication throughout the United 



246 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

States, every day except Sunday, for the past twelve 
years. 

Mr. McCardell wishes to state that he for one is tired 
of it, but if others are th^y do not complain as he does. 
He would have stopped writing it long ago, but the 
Jarr Family is the McCardell family's most reliable 
meal ticket, and he needs the money. 

He has taken the Jarr Family all around the world 
and to Central and South America with him, but could 
never shake them off. 

In his earlier years he aspired to be a poet, but in 
the year 1905 he had verses in the fifteen leading 
American periodicals of the time, in one current 
month's or week's issue — Life, Puck, Judge, Truth, 
Leslie's Weekly, Harper's Weekly, all the leading 
monthly magazines and, he thinks, the War Cry and 
Police Gazette. 

No other versifier, with the possible exceptions of 
Arthur Guiterman or Walt Mason, ever equaled that 
record. 

But the fifteen checks altogether only totaled 
$121.50, and McCardell decided that poetry didn't pay, 
or verse either. He collected his best lyrical efforts 
in a little volume entitled "Olde Love and Lavender," 
and reformed from rhyme, except where ideas fail 
him, or he is writing lyrics for musical shows. 

He resides in New Rochelle with such as is left of 
a once large family, and, as a humorist, prefers to 
write moving picture scenarios. 

They pay best, and he says they are always funny 
when they reach the screen, whether he intended them 
to be that way or not. 



CHAPTER XXIV 



DON MARQUIS 



SOME of those friends of America who look at us ^ 
from the outside have expressed the opinion that 
Don Marquis is the best writer of humor among 
us. That is always a difficult matter to decide. Don 
is uneven. I think, at his best, he is the best. But 
this is highly unimportant ; it is sufficient to know him 
and to read him and to get pleasure out of what he 
does. He is almost the only one who can write about 
himself without offense ; he is interested in everjrthing, 
like Arnold Bennett — only more so. He is undoubt-^ 
edly an artist in words, if not in ideas. He has all 
the faults of his environment, the unerring ability to 
express what we all feel, and to do it in such a manner 
that we are continually being brought up with a round 
turn. It would be unfair to some of the others to say 
that he is our leading columnist, because it is unfair 
to judge any columnist in that manner, although I 
have had the audacity elsewhere to make this claim for 
F. P. A. The column of type presented by a columnist 
is only an accident, although there is of course an 
atmosphere about the column all its own. Don 
Marquis is always slopping over his column and 
reaching out into unheard of spaces. Perhaps he 

247 



248 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

indulges in fewer parlor fireworks than some of the 
others, depending not always so much on the trick 
of words as on ideas, or on expressions that are the 
result of impulses running towards deep convictions, 
and then suddenly being halted by the inevitable 
interrogation of "What are we all here for anyway?" 
He voices better than any one I know the strug- 
gle of the soul (or the thing that we term soul) 
but he does this more by byplay than anything else. 
And he has the trick of being readable no matter what 
he writes about, until both he and the reader suddenly 
look up and blush at each other for liking it. For ex- 
ample, take this piece, out of his daily column : 

One of our favorite dissipations ... we use the 
word advisedly, because it draws upon and diffuses our 
slender reserve of nervous energy ... is worrying 
over the Terrible Condition of Things in General. We 
try to keep it out of the Sun Dial as much as possible, 
but our anxiety and pain and bitterness and sense of 
pathos when we think of the condition of the earth- 
bound multitudes of men often get into print in spite 
of us. 

In the course of every twenty-four hours we find 
ourself going through a complete cycle of beliefs, from 
passionate conservative to impassioned radical. At 
times we are certain that the world is ready for the 
communal idea, and should we pick up an article or 
talk with a man disagreeing with us we damn the 
writer or speaker as a mud-headed Tory. Three hours 
later we have grown disgusted with liberalism and the 
conviction suddenly seizes us that popular government 
is the mistake of the ages . . . that the only reason this 
country has done as well as it has is because its pro- 



DON MARQUIS 249 

fessed republicanism, its democracy, has seldom really 
been genuine: there has been the form of a popular 
government, but the masses, the majorities, have usually 
been tricked: the control of affairs has been juggled 
away from them. 

Under the influence of any of our moods we are apt 
to say things . . . not merely say things, but write 
them and send them to the printers . . . which we will 
not believe at all by the time the type is set. But we 
do not stop their publication : we know that, whatever 
they are, whatever complexion of political belief they 
represent, there will come a time when we believe in 
them once more. 

Such tolerance as we have . . . and we pride our- 
self upon our tolerance . . . really arises from the con- 
flict of a dozen jarring intolerancies. 

There are only two things constant and stable in us : 
the wish to see the grosser injustices of human existence 
wiped out at once, and the conviction that it will be 
thousands of years before the human race will have 
developed sufliciently mentally and spiritually to wipe 
them out. 

We have not the faintest idea why we are writing 
this totally unnecessary, this distressingly candid ex- 
position of our own mental unreliability. But now that 
it is written, we shall print it . . . first, because a 
person who writes for a daily paper is obliged to keep 
up with the printers, and therefore cannot afford the 
luxury of writing anything he does not publish; 
secondly, because of a belief that the Sun Dial readers 
know us well enough by this time to forgive us such 
a tactless aberration from the usual. Of course when 
we see the stuff in print we shall repent having pub- 
lished it. We had intended writing an entire column 
of epigrams and witticisms concerning government 



2SO OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

under the title of The Almost Perfect State, 
when it suddenly occurred to us that in spite of 
our knack of throwing our notions into epigram the I 
result was unimportant because of our own instability 
. . . that is to say, no matter how clevei* the epigrams 
might be, in themselves they would be entirely un- 
related to our self as a person, fatally divorced from 
any course of action we might pursue as a human 
being. So why cumber the earth with the fore-damned 
things? We don't know how to rtm the world any- 
how ... at least we feel this afternoon that we don't 
. . . although we know more about it than most of 
the people who are actually doing it. Don't you? 

There is nothing like writing to get a thing off your 
chest. We feel better already. To-morrow you shall 
have a column that is actually readable. It may be 
about The Almost Perfect State after all. 

Don Marqihs, 

One reads on and on, knowing that it is all non- 
sense, and perhaps not the best nonsense. After one 
is through, nothing has happened, and yet here we have 
a great piece -of literary business; it is actually, though 
quite subtly, a satire — sl satire on any form of ex- 
pression. He seems to be serious ; you know of course 
that he is not. Yet when you get through you have 
learned more, or at least realized more, than if you 
had been reading some erudite dissertation on science 
or theology. And the reason is, of course, that here is 
personality, and Art after all is nothing but person- 
ality. The principles that lie under personality lie under 
all literary work, even the dullest. And if you should 
try to express yourself in the way that Don Marquis 



DON MARQUIS 251 

does, you would see that it was impossible unless you 
had the secret of doing it. Among so many prolific v. 
American writers, I should say he has the most inven- 
tion, and the most grotesque sense of invention; yet 
he never fails to come back to first principles. Here is 
one of his characters, archy the Cockroach. The 
whole thing is too utterly impossible, and yet what 
archy says is more important to a whole lot of people 
than what the President says or what a solemn college 
dean says — ^than what almost anybody says: 

Maybe the Ku Klux Klams get the information on 
which they act from the Ouija Board. 

archy Sings Another Song 

boss i can 

throw some light 

on the two paragraphs 

above perhaps 

as follows 

said the scrammel to the weasel 

as the kleagle wiggled by 

theres the passion of a measle 

in his sad and strangling cry 

said the weasel to the scrammel 

as the kleagle sang his note 

theres the gurgle of a camel 

in the gargle of his throat 

said the werble to th^.wobble 

as his larynx looped the loop 

he burbles like a bobble 

that is scalded eating soup 

and they went and asked the ouija 



252 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the secret of his song 

and it said his brain was squeegy 

and his mind wasn't strong 

yours for the higher 

ministries of poesy archv 

Don once told me an amusing thing about one of 
his characters, Hermione, the girl who is always talk- 
ing about the almost perfect state, that t3rpe of girl 
who poses as being intellectual. He lectured once 
before a large audience of girls and said he had quite 
a hard time of it until he got talking about Hermione 
and suddenly everybody realized that they were all 
Hermiones more or less, including himself, and after 
that it was a very merry party. That, of course, is 
always the quality of true humor — ^no matter how hard 
it hits, it hits the humorist as well. The grave-diggers 
in "Hamlet'' were only grave-diggers in the great soul 
of Shakespeare. 

Don Marquis has great passions, terrible finalities. 
Nothing exceeds his wrath over shams, which is the 
mark of true humor. Prohibition caused him to invent 
The Old Soak, who sprang full born, a radiant being 
who has come to delight us more and more. Here is 
only just a small part of him: 

The Old Soak Laments 

"I ain't gonna turn Prohibitionist or nothin'/' says 
the Old Soak, **but I'll say this — these days I don't 
relish my liquor none. I dunno w'ether I'm too old or 
the hooch is too young. I always did like my liquor 
to meet me half way, but these days you ain't more'n 



DON MARQUIS 253 

made a home fer a drink before it begins to henpeck 
you. It moves in an' starts to yank the furniture 
around like a red-headed widow that's aimin' to show 
her third husband who's boss five minutes after the 
weddin' cerements has been uttered. I like to get 
acquainted with my drinks more gradual. But nowa- 
days one minute you're so sober you hate yourself, 
an' the next minute you're so drunk you hate the world. 
One of the greatest pleasures I useter have was hangin' 
onto a bar and wonder in' if I was drunk yet. But 
these times the' ain't no opportunity to speculate; 
you don't wonder if you're drunk, you wonder if you're 
gonna live. Booze uster be a king, but now he's turned 
into one of these here redical anarchists. I ain't gonna 
quit, nor nothin', but I'd like once more to ride on top 
of a' souse instead of bein' drug for miles under the 
wheels. I don't know what kind o' grief berries they 
make it out of these days, but I know I can't find but 
two kinds of liquor — one kind ain't right an' the other 
kind ain't liquor." 

Should this, or his other fulminations, shock any- 
body? Certainly not. Prohibition is one thing. The 
Old Soak is quite another. It was almost worth hav- 
ing Prohibition to incite Don Marquis to create The 
Old Soak and to put him into a play. One can be 
deeply committed to the Thirty-nine Articles and enjoy 
him just the same. And among all the reformers, is 
there one who cannot enjoy what follows? 

Reform the Lower Animals! 

Before we go on our vacation — or while we are in 
the act of going on it — ^we give one backward thought 



254 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

to the world from which we are retiring, and in- 
augurate a new reform. 

:¥ * * 

Mankind is being reformed, hut conditions among 
the lower animals are frightful! 

:¥ il^ * 

We have received the following letter from Mr. 
John Frew, which shows the shocking conditions 
among pigeons in and about New York City. 

"Knowing your interest in reform I have ventured 
to send you the following observations: 

"Yesterday, while musing over your brilliant theory 
that the one-piece bathing suit is responsible for over- 
work on the part of reformers, spots on the sun and 
the present heat wave, and reflecting on what small 
causes produce far-reaching results, my attention was 
attracted by the actions of some pigeons on the roof 
just outside my window. A male pigeon was going 
through the absurd genuflections of his kind before 
an unwilling female. This, I may here interject, is 
a scene of frequent occurrence in this neighborhood — 
hardly a moment passes that some pigeon is not making 
an exhibition of himself. They strut and swell their 
necks, they bow and swagger, tripping over their trail- 
ing wings, until one's heart bleeds for the harassed 
females. For it is plainly evident to a close observer 
that these attentions are unwelcome to the female . • . 
Unwelcome, did I say ? — Nay, repugnant ! Let mc not 
err on the side of understatement. The female pigeon 
is a hardworking bird, untiring in her efforts to pick 
up a living for her family, and the misdirected energy 
of the males interferes sadly with her true mission in 
life. Indeed, one might almost say that it would be 
better for the pigeon race if all the mates were 



DON MARQUIS 255 

destroyed! Then the females could carry on the work 
of incubation and the feeding of the young undis- 
turbed, and something might be done in a scientific 
way toward artificial fertilization of the egg. 

"The destruction of the male, however, brings up 
a problem that requires careful thought. Questions 
arise. Is it better to destroy than to ameliorate? 
Would it not be better to punish these birds ? To break 
down their pride by confinement, to purge their haughty 
flesh by pain? Pain, the purifier! Pain, the perfect- 
ing agent ; dreaded and shunned by all animated nature, 
but yet so necessary as a preparation for a higher and 
nobler state ! Following this thought I evolved a plan 
which I believe would be efficacious in purging away the 
grosser elements in the nature of the male pigeon. 

**A great number of cages might be made, single 
cells, each accommodating one pigeon. They could be 
attached to the cornices of public buildings and the 
male pigeons placed in them. So imprisoned they could 
see the females going about their daily avocations, but 
would be denied access to them. Instinctively they 
would go through their absurd evolutions, prancing 
and bowing and strutting. A mechanical method of 
utilizing this waste energy would have to be devised 
— something in the nature of a miniature treadmill, 
in each cage. The power thus generated would operate 
a small chain of buckets passing through a reservoir of 
ice water. At stated intervals (far enough apart so as 
not to permanently discourage the prisoner from all 
eff^ort) one of these would arise, a clutch would be 
released and the frigid contents discharged on the 
prisoner's head. There is nothing Uke a good healthy 
douche of ice water to cool off these affectionate birds ! 

**I am sure that good results could be obtained in 
this manner. To say nothing of the chastening effect on 



256 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the pigeons themselves it would serve as an object 
lesson to all observers in proving that punishment in- 
evitably overtakes the carnal minded. Regarded in 
this light it would be educational, and as such, would 
commend itself to the American public. 

"The necessary expenses for installation of cages, 
machinery, ice, services of iceman, &c., could easily 
be taken care of by a slight increase in the tax rate. 
Indeed, the whole installation could be financed by an 
additional tax on tobacco alone, thus forcing the 
addicts to this noxious drug to make some slight return 
for the annoyance caused to non-addicts by their 
selfish indulgence. This last consideration should 
cause the scheme to endear itself to all right-thinking 
people." 

:¥ * * 

It is not only pigeons, but all birds and beasts I 
Who will join us in a crusade to reform the lower 

animals ? 

:¥ * * 

All the Lower Animals ! 

:¥ * * 

We must, if necessary, Amend the Constitution once 

Don Marquis. 

I have ventured, in this chapter on Don Marquis, 
to quote direct from my subject much more than usual 
because, only in this way, can he be revealed. He ap- 
pears to me to be a special dispensation of Providence, 
set here to keep us all straight. God knows wc arc 
wicked enough in our moralities. What would Amer- 
ica do without people like Don? I wanted him, also, 
to give some literal account of himself if he could, and 



DON MARQUIS 257 

so I caught him on the fly one day and got him to 
write down as follows: 

Don Marquis, whose full name is Donald Robert 
Perry Marquis, was born at Walnut, Bureau County, 
Illinois, on July 29, 1878, at three o'clock in the after- 
noon, during a total eclipse of the sun, and a few 
minutes later his father had him enrolled in the Re- 
publican party. Mr. Marquis has left the Republican 
party and returned to it again a great many times since. 

Walnut, Illinois, is one of those towns that prop 
two cornfields apart. Nothing ever happens there, 
except the sort of things chronicled in the "Spoon River 
Anthology'* — which happen so slowly that one never 
catches them happening, just as one never sees the hour 
hand of the clock moving. 

Mr. Marquis was graduated from the village high 
school at the age of fifteen, and explains that it would 
have taken him longer if the high school had been 
higher. He went to work in the local drug store — 
accepted a position, rather — ^the same year. He might 
have been there yet except for a fortunate accident 
which grew out of a series of chemical experiments 
which he was making. The drug store was blown up 
and the hearing of the experimenter's right ear was 
permanently impaired. 

During the next four or five years Mr. Marquis 
worked at almost all the trades and professions that 
flourished in Walnut and vicinity. He clerked for a 
Semitic gentleman in a clothing store, he sold sewing 
machines, he was employed in a chicken abattoir, he 
taught school, he was an assistant in the village post 
office, he plowed corn, he worked on a hay press, and 
he hired out as a printer's devil for one of the local 
papers. 



258 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

This was his first false step. Never since then has 
he succeeded in getting any distance away from printer's 
ink and white paper. Before he had been setting t3rpe 
six weeks he discovered that a sonnet — the regulation 
fourteen-line sonnet of commerce — ^just exactly fits 
and fills a printer's stick. After this discovery it was 
almost impossible to get Mr. Marquis to do anything 
but compose sonnets and set them into type as he 
composed them. He never bothered to write his copy 
first — right into the stick it went. 

In 1896 Mr. Marquis deserted the Republican party 
for the first time, and put into type a series of sonnets 
in praise of William Jennings Bryan. It is hard for 
him to believe to this day that Mr. Bryan was not 
really elected President in 1896. Unfortunately, these 
sonnets have perished. 

In 1898 Mr. Marquis went to Knox College, at 
Galesburg, Illinois, with the intention of getting an 
education. But he did not seem to be much good at it, 
and left, after working at it only a few months, and 
went back to teaching country schools and working 
for country newspapers— occupations in which a 
college education is only a handicap. 

In 1900 Mr. Marquis returned to the Republican 
party and accepted a position as a clerk in the Census 
Office at Washington, D. C. After accepting this 
position he got a job on a daily newspaper, the Wash- 
in g ton Times, as a reporter. In addition to this, he 
began to study art at the Corcoran Art School in 
Washington. 

Mr. Marquis would go to work on the newspaper 
at 7:30 in the morning and work until 2 o'clock in 
the afternoon. From 2 in the afternoon until 5 in 
the evening he was in attendance at the art school 
From 5 in the evening until midnight he worked at the 



DON MARQUIS 259 

Census Office. The rest of his time he gave to dissipa- 
tion, sleep, poetry, study of the workings of the 
National Government, attempts to write the great 
American drama, and other in- and out-door sports. 

From Washington Mr. Marquis went to Phila- 
delphia, where he was employed on the Philadelphia 
North American, and from Philadelphia to Atlanta, 
Georgia, where he wrote editorials, first for the 
Atlanta News, and later for the Atlanta Journal. 

When the late Joel Chandler Harris started Uncle 
Remus's Magazine in Atlanta in 1906, he asked Mr. 
Marquis to be his assistant, and Mr. Marquis remained 
as associated editor of that magazine until 1909, when 
he came to New York. In June, 1909, he married Miss 
Reina Melcher, of Atlanta, Georgia, who is also a 
writer. 

Since coming to New York Mr. Marquis has been 
employed on the New York Sunday Tribune, the 
United Press, the New York American, the Brooklyn 
Eagle and the New York Sun, formerly the New York 
Evening Sun, Since 1912 he has conducted on the 
Sun the column known as "The Sun Dial," contribut- 
ing verses, short stories, serial novels and articles of 
various sorts to magazines at the same time and in 
September, 1922, he moved over to the Tribune. He 
has published two novels, "Danny's Own Story,'* in 
1912, and "The Cruise of the Jasper B.," in 1916; 
"Prefaces,'* a book of whimsical essays ; "Hermione," 
a volume of sketches delineating the vagaries of the 
Modern Young Woman who thinks she thinks; 
"Dreams and Dust," a book of serious verse; "The 
Old Soak" and "Hail and Farewell," a collection of 
prose articles and verses that deal with all aspects of the 
liquor-prohibition movement; and three other books 
of his have been announced for publication during 



26o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the year — "Carter and Other People/* a collection of 
short stories, "Poems and Portraits," a second volume 
of serious verse, "Noah and Jonah and Cap'n John 
Smith," a collection of humorous verses and "Sonnets 
to a Red-Haired Lady." 



CHAPTER XXV 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 



IT is impossible to write about any one with such 
an intimate personality as the one controlled and 
owned (presumably) by Christopher Morley with- 
out being intimate oneself. And yet the startling fact 
about him, which I discovered when I attempted to 
write, was that he had actually disclosed so little of 
himself, or at least, of the sort of self that I believed 
him possessed of, that I couldn't write about him at all. 

I then — in the most brutal manner, a manner that 
only the editor of a humorous paper comes to acquire 
after long years of pain in the making — ^wrote and 
demanded of him that he write an autobiography of 
himself. 

He did it. And then put me under oath not to pub- 
lish it. That was quite like him. At first the subtlety 
of his humor didn't penetrate (I am Scotch). And 
then it gradually dawned on me that the article he wrote 
about himself was intended as a rebuke. This was 
also made more plain to my diminishing intellect by 
the last sentence in the letter with which he accompa- 
nied his manuscript in which he said : "But here's an 
amazing idea: why not write the book yourself?" 

Morley is always doing things like that — ^trying to 

261 



262 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

incite people to superfluous things from a sense of duty. 
He was evidently secretly jealous and thought that if 
he could get me to do the book myself, instead of 
having it properly (or improperly) done by others, the 
sale would naturally fall flat. And yet I immediately 
absolve him from such a notion, for actually he is not 
that kind. 

On the contrary, he is quite different. 

After I was compelled by the horrid circumstances, 
actually to write about him, I was naturally compelled 
to think about him, and it then dawned upon me that 
what I had thought of all along as an intimate per- 
sonality, was in reality intimate only as it concerned 
other people. That is to say, Morley is not so intimate 
with himself as he is with everybody else. Indeed, I 
doubt if he is intimate with himself at all. That is 
quite remarkable in one who, if he really cared to be 
intimate with himself, might easily extract considerable 
amusement from the contact. 

The fact is that Morley is always amusing, not how- 
ever in the sense of being common — for he never 
could be that — ^but because he has the superb faculty 
of being so interested in every one and everything else. 
I think it was Metchnikoff in one of his books about 
long life, who disclosed the consoling fact that, as one 
grows older, one should grow happier because of what 
he termed one's "sense of life." What Metchniko£F 
meant was that, as we come to study life itself, and 
become more intimate with it, the detail of its beauty 
and coloring is more evident to us, so that we enjoy 
things much more intensely in old age — that is, the 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 263 

right things — ^than we possibly can in youth ; in youth, 
which is so detached and fleeting in its hurry-scurry. 

And that is true. A picture that twenty years ago 
would have aroused only my passing interest, may now 
easily become a subject for complete absorption. Also, 
I find that people interest me more and more all the 
time. I seem to be on closer terms with everybody. 
The hues and tints of human beings, and the hereto- 
fore invisible beauties and qualities of their tempera- 
ments and characters, now affect me often very deeply, 
whereas before they passed me unnoticed. 

Now Christopher Morley, it appears to me, was born 
with this "sense of life," and what a delightful and 
wonderful gift it was that the fairies presented to him! 
Of course that is the kind of thing that, when old men 
have it, keeps them young, but Morley, having had it 
when he was young, has been doubly blest in having 
been able, before he was thirty, to enjoy life just as if 
he was over fifty. No wonder his writing makes one 
feel very good indeed. 

To classify such a seemingly joyous person is quite 
difficult. Is he a humorist? — that is, is he more of a 
humorist than anything else? I do not know. 
Lawrence Abbott, writing of Morley in 1920, said : 

We should think Mr. Phelps, of Yale University, 
would like 'Tarnassus on Wheels" and "The Haunted 
Bookshop" very much indeed. Perhaps he does. If 
he has not read them, we advise him to. They certainly 
prove one thing — namely, that a "damn literary feller" 
need not necessarily be a highbrow, and that an Ameri- 
can humorist of the most genuine sort can really like 
the best of literature. 



264 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTb 

How interesting that is as a comment! 

But I have another one about Moriey that I always 
delight in when I read it, not necessarily because I 
think it correct, but for certain reasons purely personal. 
It is by Mr. Vincent O'Sullivan, who visited America 
in 1919, and was the recipient of Morley's kindly in- 
tentions and hospitalities. And this is what Mr. 
O'SuUivan wrote: 

Some years ago I was asked to lunch in New York 
at a restaurant in the neighborhood of Wall Street — 
one of those places where eating .becomes feeding; 
where, as in a pew, men closely packed in a small room 
groan and sweat as they devour probable dishes while 
flying scuds of soup and gravy are blown in the face 
from plates carried at perilous angles by irritable and 
distracted waiters. . . . My host was a large florid 
young man rather ample in movement for the place, 
who looked as if he might have seized the restaurant 
in his arms and swung it across the river to the Brook- 
lyn side. So far as looks go, he was the kind of a man 
you may meet on any misty morning in Essex or 
Suffolk riding about his farm on a stocky well-groomed 
cob or trampling through the worzels in thick boots and 
buskins, with a gun under his arm and a dog at his 
heels. This was Mr. Christopher Moriey, sometime one 
of the editors of the Ladies Home Journcd, and now an 
imposing pillar of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. 
Amid the uproar, he gained my sympathy by calling 
'The Woman in White" one of the best English novels. 
He spoke warmly too of Anthony Trollope. I cannot 
read Trollope much, but I like people who like him. 
I suppose we all feel that way about some vrriter or 
other. 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 265 

At the time of our lunch Mr. Morley had published 
in magazines some parts of his book of poems, "Songs " 
for a Little House/' whereof the inspiration takes its 
rise in the English intimists, Herrick, George Herbert, 
Cowper, Crabbe. He has since written a few books 
of essays (or as one would say in America "near- 
essays'") whereof the inspiration is the prose counter- 
part of those worthies Izaak Walton, Addison (of Sir 
Roger de Coverley), Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt, with 
something of Hazlitt and George Borrow thrown in. 
As you see, nothing could be more English. And as 
one reads these books, "Shandygaff" and "Parnassus 
on Wheels," it is easy to pick out his preferences among 
modern English authors. Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad, 
Chesterton, J. M. Barrie — ^there they are! It may be 
in deference to his surroundings that he professes an 
inordinate admiration for that didactic and boring 
writer, Samuel Butler — him of "Erewhon" and "The 
Way of all Flesh" I mean ; heaven forbid that any one 
should think I mean the great author of Hudibras. 
. . . Such a list of preferences describes a man. You 
notice that if there was no Hall Caine there is no 
Galsworthy; if there is no Florence Barclay there is 
no Bernard Shaw; if there is no Arnold Bennett or 
Algernon Blackwood neither is there Mrs. Humphry 
Ward or William Locke. No non-English writers 
whatever, none of the great French, have said anything 
important for him. I have a notion that he regards 
Ibsen and Strindberg with dislike as not the kind of 
stuff that young America can profitably be nourished 
upon. His admiration of his own countrymen is also 
tempered by many exclusions. Among those he ad- 
mires he takes a long slide from Walt Whitman to 
Mr. Don Marquis, who distributes parodies and prov- 
erbs. According to Mr. Morley the facetious Mr. 



266 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Marquis is the greatest writer, except Walt Whitman, 
that ever lived in the Brooklyn district of New York. 
This is perhaps not much of a claim; but however 
that may be, it falls to be said that Howard Pyle, ad- 
mirable writer of fairy stories, of pirate romances, 
admirable black-and-white artist, too, lived in Brooklyn, 
and if he were still treading its streets, neither Mr. 
Marquis nor many other Americans would be worthy 
to walk in his shadow. 

It has seemed worth while to dwell on Mr. Christo- 
pher Morley's literary formation because of his ex- 
pression of the English literary tradition, which is 
indeed so singular in America to-day that one is not 
much surprised to learn that he is not very far off the 
original English stock — only a single generation I 
think. He has also been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, 
and although in his latest book he calls a college cap 
a "mortar board," no doubt he came into sufficiently 
close contact with the real life of the place. He waxes 
enthusiastic about tea and muffins and open coal fires. 
Tea arouses no delight in the American breast, muffins 
mean something else than they do in England, and open 
fires are a privilege to the rich. He is, in his books, a 
great eater, his board is spread with a Victorian 
prodigality. To his mind, when the English Victorian 
era ended, something very good went out of the world. 
There is nothing in him that Victorianism would have 
frustrated : he does not want to do or express anything 
which would have shocked the Victorian sense of fit- 
ness. I do not know whether he wotdd want to put 
drawers on the legs of a piano, but he would not want 
to discuss the subject of legs, or anything that may be 
implied in that. . . . Mr. Morley is by no means a 
realist, if realism means facing unflinchingly the sad 
and ugly among the other elements of life. He puts 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 267 

aside whatever is unpleasant, and, one can see in many 
another author, this is done by conviction, deliberately, 
like the effort of a Christian Scientist. He belongs 
to the domestic school; he is a homely writer. He 
tells you what they had for breakfast from sheer delight 
in telling it. People don't catch diseases in his book. 
They are very well. The doctor only comes to pre- 
side at the arrival of a new and healthy baby. 

On the whole, if we want only the fair lights, Mr. 
Morley gives a true enough picture of the middle- 
class family in the United States — or more precisely, 
of the family of small means in New England and 
the Middle Atlantic States. ... So much considera- 
tion it has seemed worth while to give to this American 
writer in an English paper, not upon any claim that 
what he has so far produced makes him a great and 
important writer, but because he is a pleasant writer, 
with whose books English readers might well make 
acquaintance, and particularly because he is one of the 
very few American writers who continue the English 
literary tradition in a country where that tradition is 
dying fast and where the spoken, and to a considerable 
extent the written, language is drawing farther and 
farther away from English as it is used in England. 

Morley was doubtless consoled for O' Sullivan's ar- 
ticle by the thought that there has devolved upon him 
the task of keeping the English language alive in 
America. And this is highly important, because if the 
English language is not kept alive in America, then no 
British celebrity can make even a decent living by 
coming over here to lecture — ^not to speak of getting 
his books read. And it was also kind of Mr. O'Sul- 
livan to recommend Morley's books to the English 



268 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

public. I have ventured to quote quite largely from 
his lengthy article on Morley, because, as a piece of 
psychology, it is interesting to have had Morley enter- 
tain his visitor in such a horrible place as he describes 
and then to describe him in the way he did ; and also 
because the description is not at all bad. One can sec 
Morley fairly well through Mr. O'Sullivan's lenses — 
not as Mr. O'Sullivan thought of him but as we who 
live here can understand a man who also lives here bv 
what somebody says about him who doesn't live here. 

To understand and appreciate Christopher Morley it 
is of course necessary to read his books, because nobody 
who writes discloses so much of his personality as he 
does, and the reason for this, as I have already hinted, 
is that he discloses nothing ! That may seem paradox- 
ical, and I shall not attempt to explain it. If I were 
called upon to explain it I could not do so. There arc 
plenty of things that never ought to be explained, and 
that is one of them. But I shall now make some at- 
tempt to give an idea of Christopher Morley, or at 
least, of his place in the present literary scheme of 
things. First then, here are the bare facts about him. 
what, in guide books, is termed the dull and useful 
information ! 

Christopher Morley was born at Haverford, Penn- 
sylvania, May 5, 1890, the son of Professor Frank 
Morley, the mathematician. He went to school in 
Baltimore, graduated from Haverford College in 1910, 
spent three years at New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes 
scholar, and drew his first pay envelope from Double- 
day, Page & Company, the publishers, in 1913. After 
four years with Doubleday, Page & Company and a | 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 269 

year on the staff of the Ladies^ Home Journal he 
entered newspaper work. For two years he conducted 
a column on the Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia ; 
and since 1920 he has had charge of "The Bowling- 
Green," an editorial page column in the New York 
Evening Post. By the time he was thirty-one he had 
published thirteen books. When it is considered that 
this list of works comprises four collections of verses, 
three volumes of essays, two novelettes, one book of 
short stories, a fantastic skit on prohibition, a volume 
of city sketches ("Travels in Philadelphia,") and a 
book ("The Haunted Bookshop") which may perhaps 
be described as a novel, but is a novel of a very queer 
sort and an odd blend of seriousness, levity and satire, 
it will be seen that this writer possesses some of the 
true Elizabethan exuberance. 

In a volume of literary portraits, "Pins for Wings," 
(written, if we remember, by Witter Bynner) Morley, 
was described as "an affectionate scorpion." The 
genial qualities of his domestic lyrics and more humor- 
ous essays and tales have somewhat obscured the fact 
that he is capable of implanting a satiric or ironic sting 
which carries a disinfecting acid. Consider, for in- 
stance, his burlesque, "Translations from the Chinese," 
or the portrait (in "Mince Pie") of the young English 
poet visiting this country. This must have cost Morley 
inward pangs to write, for Anglo-American friendship 
is the central doctrine of his creed. Anglo-American 
in origin and training and tastes, he is fitted to contem- 
plate the quaintly stimulating contrasts and similarities 
of John Bull and Uncle Sam. 

The chief literary influence of his boyhood was 



270 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Robert Louis Stevenson. Next after Stevenson, he 
fell under the empire of Keats, O. Henry, Kipling — 
a diverse assortment. But he has been writing ever 
since he was seven years old: conducted various fam- 
ily newspapers as a child, as so many writers have done, 
and served an editorial apprenticeship on school and 
college papers. It is curious to learn that in his al- 
lege magazine — ^the Haverfordian — he wrote a series of 
stories, "The Adventures of an Irish Waitress," in 
which he treated the field of kitchen comedy which he 
has since developed in more than one story (e. g. 
^'Kathleen"). The humors and moods of the house- 
hold are a topic that he has fotmd fruitful and con- 
genial, both in prose and verse. 

His first book was a slender collection of under- 
graduate verses, written and published in Oxford 
(1912), called "The Eighth Sin." This somewhat 
cryptic title, which might be thought to cover the 
Dowsonesque and absinthine moods of a young fin di 
sihle decadent, is however only a sprightly commentary 
on a remark of Keats, to the effect that "There is no 
greater Sin, after the Seven Deadly, than to flatter 
oneself into an idea of being a Great Poet." The 
author of this pleasant little collection of juvenilia is 
secretly proud (he confesses) of the fact that the entire 
edition of some 300 copies was, in the course of eight 
years, finally sold out by Mr. Blackwell, the persevering 
Oxford bookseller and publisher, and ultimately yielded 
an author's royalty of about eleven shilling^ 

His first regularly published book was "Parnassus 
On Wheels" (191 7), a little romance of a wandering 
bookseller and a wagonload of second-hand books. 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 271 

This rural comedy, with its bookish flavor, was kindly 
received, and has gone through more than a dozen 
printings in the four years since its appearance. It 
led to a sequel, "The Haunted Bookshop," which, in 
point of sales, has been Morley's most successful book. 
The booksellers have grown to look upon this author 
as a kind of informal laureate of their trade, and it is 
encouraging to see that stories of this distinctly bookish 
flavor have a larger public than might have been sup- 
posed. 

In spite of the number (I was almost about to 
remark "high literary quality" of his books when it 
occurred to me that this would get me into no end of 
trouble) and bookish tone of his books, Morley is 
essentially a columnist. What a columnist is I have 
explained elsewhere. It is now sufficient to observe 
that this is Morley's trade. His column in the New 
York Evening Post is one of the three best known in 
the country, the other two being those of F. P. A. and 
Don Marquis. But Morley's column differs from the 
others markedly. He confines himself quite largely 
to books, to streets and to food. In all of these sub- 
jects he is on safe ground, but his geniality too often 
overcomes him, and he pays too much attention to other 
writers. Personally I don't think he knows anything 
about poetry, which shows at least that he is healthy, 
although the way he has played up some of our most 
terrible poets in his column is scandalous. I should 
say that, if he had a defect, it is that he writes too 
easily. He does not draw enough water, but dear me, 
the man is so graceful and slides you along so lovingly 
that it is simply no use to find fault with him. And 



272 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

he has done so much for those to whom so much should 
be done ! There is William McFee ; how much do we 
owe Morley for helping us to know McFee ! And there 
is Edward Newton, who would have been known any- 
way but not so soon or so completely. I shall always 
remember that Morley made me get Newton's book 
when it first came out — before anybody else even sus- 
pected it. (It is called "The Amenities of Book 
Collecting/') I was so excited about that book, after 
Morley had recommended it and I had purchased a 
copy, that I kept buying it over again. I read it and 
then gave it to somebody else to read; then I bought 
another copy and forgot that I had it, and after that, 
the copies kept turning up unexpectedly. Once I 
thought I had given them all away, tmtil in a happy 
moment, I discovered two of them on the same book- 
shelf. And then Morley made me read Barrie, and I 
blessed him for it — after that he went to Philadelphia, 
and I lost sight of him until he came back to the Eve- 
fling Post. And this is the sort of thing that he writes 
for the Post and does so delightfully: 

What authors would you give up your seat for in 
the subway? We didn't say to, we said for. The 
other evening, for instance, we saw a young woman 
standing, holding a copy of Dodo Wonders, by E. F. 
Benson. We did not hesitate a moment. E. F. Benson 
is a good enough writer to entitle any lady to a seat, 
and we gave her ours promptly. But ladles reading 
Ethel M. Dell, Ruby M. Ayres, Robert W. Service, 
Arthur Stringer, Eleanor H. Porter, and all that sort of 
thing, do not get our seat. 

This particular young lady, we noticed, was using 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 273 

as a bookmark a leaflet entitled The Present Crisis of 
Simmons College, 

Morley (thank God!) is not a literary critic. He 
is not only too kind but in spite of the fact that he is 
so literary, he is intelligent. He is not only intelligent 
for a literary man but for a columnist. He supports 
his family, his opinions, and his motor car, and he once 
told me — but that is a secret. 

As to whether he is more of a humorist than a 
writer on literature, I cannot tell ; some will think one 
thing, some another. In a list that was made up by 
about fifty booksellers throughout the United States to 
determine the most popular writer of American fiction, 
he is number 17. This list was compiled by the Pub- 
Ushers' Weekly, and the writer goes on to say : 

"It seems unfortunate that American humor did not 
have any outstanding figure that should be recognized 
for his contribution to our literature, as we have always 
complimented ourselves on our production in this field. 
Of those who fell below the line in votes, the four 
following deserve mention : George Ade, F. P. Dunne, 
Don Marquis, Ring Lardner." 

And yet Morley is 17 in a list in which these writers 
do not appear — which in reality means very little be- 
cause Morley's books that place him in this list, while 
undoubtedly charged with humor, are distinctive for 
other qualities, and the other writers mentioned are not 
to be classed with writers of fiction; their popularity 
is of another order, 

Morley is undoubtedly a humorist. But it is hardly 



274 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

possible to draw a distinction between him and, say, 
either Ade or Dunne or Lardner, and be fair to every 
one. I don't think he is as basic as these other fel- 
lows. He knows too much about books. He has read 
too much. Probably his experience at Oxford may 
have given him something that was less valuable than 
that which he had racially. I am frank to say that I 
do not feel competent to judge. I cannot give up one 
iota of what I have written elsewhere about Peter 
Dunne and George Ade and Ring Lardner, and at the 
same time, Morley delights me as much, but in another 
way. Is it because his passion for books has made him 
more indefinite, less unerring? He doesn't smell so 
much of the soil. I love to read what he says about 
books, but I don't want to believe it always because he 
reads too many of them. Perhaps all this is what 
makes him a humorist ! 

Bibliography 

"The Eighth Sin" : Blackwell, Oxford, 1912. [Out 

of print.] 
"Parnassus on Wheels": Doubleday, Page & Co., 

1917. 
Songs for a Little House" : George H. Doran Co., 

1917. 
Shandygaff" : Doubleday, Page & Co., 1918. 
The Rocking Horse" : George H. Doran Co., 1919. 
"The Haunted Bookshop" : Doubleday, Page & Ca, 

1919. 
In the Sweet Dry and Dry" [With Bart Haley]: 

Boni and Liveright, 1919. 
Mince Pie" : George H. Doran Co., 1919. 



it 

ti 



it 



It 



CHRISTOPHER MORLEY 275 



€< 
ti 
it 
it 



Travels in Philadelphia" : David McKay, 1920, 
Kathleen" : Doubleday, Page & Co., 1920. 
Hide and Seek" : George H. Doran Co., 1920. 
Pipefuls" : Doubleday, Page & Co., 1920. 
Tales from a Rolltop Desk": Doubleday, Page & 
Co., 1921. 
"Plum Pudding" : Doubleday, Page & Co., 1921. 



CHAPTER XXVI 



DOROTHY PARKER 



I FIRST met Dorothy Parker when she was writ- 
ing dramatic things, and other things for Vanity 
Fair and Ainslee's. How she got started I do not 
know. All I know is that she is Dorothy Parker, that 
she lives in New York, that she is married to Mr. 
Parker, who happens to be the grandson of the man 
who married me, that she has a little cubby hole in 
the Metropolitan Opera House Building (or did have), 
and that she is the best humorous writer in America 
among the women. I fancy I hear some of her ad- 
mirers exclaim, *'Why drag in the women?" Well, I 
drag them in because I probably don't know any better. 
The fact is that you cannot make any comparison in 
humor between men and women. There are fewer 
humorists among the women than among the men. 
Many people declare that women have no sense of 
humor, but I have no doubt that there are people who 
will even deny them the talent for having children. I 
am not going to enter here into the difference between 
men and women. I am off that. It has been done too 
often already. Neither am I going to declare that 
Dorothy Parker is unique. She isn't unique. She is 
only Dorothy Parker, a delicate little thing of great 

276 



DOROTHY PARKER 2.yy 

beauty and charm, who writes and says the most cut- 
ting things with a lamb-like air that would melt the 
heart of an iron statue. She has the soul of an artist, 
hating to be ordered to do anything, and making all 
sorts of excuses not to do it, and usuaUy surviving the 
not-doing of it. She refuses to have any alterations 
made in her copy. She toils over it like a slave, while 
it is underway, never thinks that it is any good but 
never (like Tolstoi and other great people) makes any 
attempt to revise it afterwards. 

To get Dorothy Parker to write an)i:hing is one of 
the most hazardous sports in the world. At the start 
she completely fools you. She gazes upon you with 
her wonderful eyes, hypnotizes you completely with her 
wonderful smile, disarms you utterly with her sym- 
pathy, which she instinctively extends to you in 
advance. You don't, but she does, know fully what 
you are up against. Then you sit around and wait for 
her to finish what she has begun. That is, if she has 
begun. The probability is that she hasn't begun. In 
this respect, to reverse Professor Coue's formula, 
"Every day, in every way, I am getting better and 
better,'' of her it may be said, "Every day, in every 
way, I get worse and worse." Several days later, 
when you approach her again, she may confess that 
she has at last got an idea but that it "is perfectly 
rotten." However, she admits that she is working on 
it. She vows that she is working upon it. You run 
up through New England in your car and, there, sitting 
at the Red Lion Inn with Heywood Broun, and Mrs. 
Otto Kahn, and Marc Connelly, you will see Dorothy 
Parker sipping something through a straw. Does she 



278 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

recognize you? Certainly. She has just recovered 
from a long illness. Otherwise she would have had 
that story ready. Months later, when you have quite 
given the whole affair up, and have only memories of 
a wonderful pair of eyes, of a dulcet voice, of a 
shrinking charm, suddenly there lies before you some- 
thing like this: 

Hymn of Hate ^ 

I Hate Books: 
They tire my eyes 

There is the Account of Happy Days in Far Tahiti; | 

The booklet of South Sea Island resorts. 

After his four weeks in the South Seas, 

The author's English gets pretty rusty 

And he has to keep dropping into the native dialect 

He implies that his greatest hardship 

Was fighting off the advances of the local girls, 

But the rest of the book 

Was probably founded on fact. 

You can pick up a lot of handy information 

On how to serve poi. 

And where the legend of the breadfruit tree got its 
start. 

And how to take kava or let it alone. 

The author says it's the only life 

And as good as promises 

That sometime he is going to throw over his writing, 1 

And go end his days with Laughing Sea-pig, the half- 
caste Knockout — 

Why wait? 

* Reprinted with permission from Life. 



DOROTHY PARKER 279 

Then there is the Little Book of Whimsical Essays ; 

Not a headache in a libraryful. 

The author comes right out and tells his favorite foods. 

And how much he likes his pipe, 

And what his walking-stick means to him, — 

A thrill on every page. 

The essays clean up all doubt 

On what the author feels when riding in the subway. 

Or strolling along the Palisades. 

The writer seems to be going ahead on the idea 

That it isn't such a bad old world, after all; 

He drowses along 

Under the influence of PoUyanesthetics. 

No one is ever known to buy the book; 

You find it on the guest room night-table. 

Or win it at a Five Hundred Party, 

Or some one gives it to you for Easter 

And follows that up by asking you how you liked it, — 

Say it with raspberries! 

There is the novel of Primitive Emotions; 

The Last Word in Unbridled Passions — 

Last but not leashed. 

The author writes about sex 

As if he were the boy who got up the idea 

The hero and heroine may be running wild in the 

Sahara, 
Or camping informally on a desert island, 
Or just knocking around the city, 
But the plot is always the same — 
They never quite make the grade. 
The man turns out to be the son of a nobleman, 
Or the woman the world's greatest heiress. 
And they marry and go to live together — 
That can't hold much novelty for them. 



28o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS | 

It is but a question of time till the book is made into 
a movie, ' 

Which is no blow to its writer. 
People laugh it off 

By admitting that it may not be the highest form of art ; 
But then, they plead, the author must live, — 
What's the big idea? 

And then there is the Realistic Novel ; 

Five hundred pages without a snicker. 

It is practically an open secret 

That the book is two dollars' worth of the author's 

own experiences, 
And that if he had not been through them. 
It would never have been written. 
Which would have been all right with me. 
It presents a picture of quiet family life — 
Of how little Rosemary yearns to knife Grandpa, 
And Father wishes Mother were cold in her grave. 
And Bobby wants to marry his big brother. 
The author's idea of action 
Is to make one of his characters spill the cereal. 
The big scene of the book 

Is the heroine's decision to make over her old taffeta. 
All the characters are in a bad way; 
They have a lot of trouble with their suppressions. 
The author is constantly explaining that they are all 

being stifled, — 
I wish to God he'd give them the air I 

/ Hate Books: 
They tire my eyes. 

Now if you should ask me, ''What is the differenoe 
between Dorothy Parker and other humorous writers?" 



DOROTHY PARKER 281 

I will try to tell you but I shall be wrong. No matter 
what anybody writes about Dorothy Parker, he will 
be wrong. I am going to tell you what I think. It 
is just as easy, and in many cases, easier to be wrong 
in thinking as it is to be right, and also there is no 
particular obligation to be right. Right-thinking is 
only a kind of perversion. Practically all of the big 
men and women who have amounted to anything have 
thought wrong most of the time. 

Dorothy Parker (I think) was suddenly, or at least 
found herself suddenly (I mean that she woke up to 
the fact) placed in a world that she didn't like. Most 
of us of course are that way at times, and we employ 
various means of self-defense. We start out to earn 
a respectable living (I mean an outwardly respectable 
living, for practically every method of earning a living 
hitherto devised is more or less disgusting) , and while 
doing this we learn to conform. But Mrs. Parker 
selected a method of self-defense that was unusual for 
a woman. She determined, or at least it became nec- 
essary for her, to invent a method of quietly laughing 
at the machinery that annoyed her. This machinery 
annoys most of us, but we submit to it. When people 
like Mrs. Parker come along and expose it, we laugh 
with her. What has always amused me most about 
those who have criticized her work (and some have 
done this) is that they invariably accuse her of being 
a cynic. "Oh, yes,*' they declare, **it is of course well 
done, but so unbecoming in a woman." Well, anything 
is always unbecoming in anybody when it is better done 
than any one else can do it. That is the chief trouble 
with Mrs. Parker. When she does a thing she does it 



282 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

better than it can be done by any one else. Naturally 
this is very bad. She at once becomes a cynic. All the 
ordinary feelings that any woman has are immediately 
denied to her by everybody who wishes they could do 
what she has done. But the fact is, that Mrs. Parker, 
so far as I have been able to discover, is precisely like 
everybody else. For one thing, she loves dogs. And 
that is to her great credit. 

And another fact about her is, and this also is 
a fact about most human beings, that she has an ex- 
traordinary talent, that she uses it for her own and 
other people's pleasure and profit, and that it doesn*t 
interfere in any way with her other emotions and feel- 
ings. In short, Dorothy Parker is a bom artist, a 
remarkable humorist in the best sense of that word, a 
quite unique person in this respect. (I expected to 
use that word "unique" once, but I warned everybody, 
or at least prepared them for it in advance.) 

You will now ask me something that is going to 
inspire me to curses, and that is. What is Dorothy 
Parker's place in American literature? 

My reply is, not that there isn't any such an animile, 
but that if there is, Dorothy Parker doesn't care. What 
maddens me most about her is that she could easily 
have a place in literature if she would only write. But 
she refuses to write. All she does every once in a 
while is to turn out something that is quite perfect in 
its way, but that is only an aside. All of her things 
are asides. Instead of accusing her of not having 
enough sympathy with a world that is all wrong, it 
ought instead to be insisted of her that she has such 
an enormous sympathy with it that it is the excess of 



DOROTHY PARKER 283 

this sympathy that compels her to ^write these, ap- 
parently cynical, asides. That is to say, she reverses 
herself. No human being can reverse herself in this 
manner without great innate capacities for human emo- 
tions. Dorothy Parker is in revolt over what Walter 
Lipmann calls "stereographs." She was sick and tired 
as soon as she was born, of repetitions and cliches. She 
doesn't mind the sun coming up every day in the same 
old way, but she objects to having it dinned into her. 
But the acid she treats you with is not the acid of a 
heart imbittered. It is the sanitary acid that brings 
out into bold relief some of the high lights of life. It ^ 
is unerring instinct for the exposure of crudity, for 
sham, but more than all for slovenliness. Dorothy 
Parker hates slovenliness. And she writes of mentally 
and morally slovenly people, and especially of women, 
in a way to make your bobbed hair curl. FU say she 
is immense! 

Nature eventually levels all things, and can always 
be relied upon to counteract all tendency to extremes. 
We see this constantly illustrated in literature. The 
pendulum swings back and forth; the Victorian age 
is succeeded by the present age; later on the women 
will be wearing hoop skirts again, and gentlemen with 
the enormous talents of Robert W. Chambers and 
Rupert Hughes will clothe their thoughts in mother 
hubbards. And, in many minor ways, this is true. 
There were people who declared not so very long ago 
that no woman in America wrote anything clever. The 
age of Pollyana set in. A publisher's reader (I know 
who he was but refuse to tell) happened by chance on 
a manuscript in which a mushy female corresponded 



284 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

with an equally mushy male, and he insisted on its 
publication. It was thereby discovered that nothing 
was too banal, nothing was too reeking with edulcora- 
tions, nothing was too flabby and googoogeyey to tempt 
a public clamoring for sentimentality. Thus there 
succeeded a series of pop-eyed stories, each one worse 
than the last, tmtil all the changes had been rung and 
any slobbering female whose head rose above the sur- 
face was in danger of her life. The war came on; the 
rough stuff sex-movement with it, and, to counteract 
all the former mush, came Mrs. Parker, piercing below 
the surface of woman and eating out her foibles. All 
she does is to voice what people think inevitably. It 
is a simple expedient, but, oh, how rare I 



CHAPTER XXVII 

HENRY A. SHUTE 

("Brite and Fair") 

MR. SHUTE'S "Real Diary of a Real Boy" was 
published in 1904, and attracted a great deal 
of attention, not only from lovers of boys but 
from lovers of humanity — this being pretty much the 
same thing. Mr. Shute is a comparatively young man ; 
he was born something before i860; he illustrates a 
great principle, however, which is to the effect that it 
is necessary to become fifty before you can become 
fifteen. What he says about himself follows : 

I am not aware that I have had any conscious 
preparation for book or story writing. As a newly- 
fledged and not particularly well-fledged lawyer I was 
fortunate in having an office in an old brick building 
on Water Street in Exeter known as Ranlet's Block. 
In the third and top story, the Exeter News-Letter was 
printed. In the second story, the office of the Editor 
was next to my office. 

The Editor was out of health and inattentive to 
business. The foreman, John Templeton, was a 
tremendous worker, and a veritable Poo Bah on the 
paper. As I had little, if anything to do in my office, 
I wrote up the locals and an occasional editorial in a 

285 



286 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

spirit of pure altruism and to kill time. Templeton, 
who had a keen sense of humor, collaborated with me, 
and some of the description of local aifairs that we 
produced would have secured our extradition from any 
state, and should have resulted in our banishment from 
any civilized community. It was not that we spoke 
ill of any one. We gilded lilies and refined roses that 
prior to our articles had been regarded, and perhaps 
justly, as thorns that "infest the ground." 

But it was in the writing of obituary notices that 
I shone with a garish light. It is a pretty safe thing 
for an obituary writer of a country paper to observe 
the maxim De mortuis nil nisi bonum. I do not think 
an obituary writer ever so strictly observed the letter 
of the maxim as I did. Did an old curmudgeon die, 
who in all his business transactions had been a living 
illustration of cupidity and meanness, I eulogized him 
as a model of lavish generosity. Did a common scold 
pass beyond, who, in colonial days, would have been 
ducked as such, I drew a pathetic picture of her kind- 
ness, forbearance and Christian good will to alL Did 
a town rounder, who had, like Mulvany 

"Put his fut through ivery 
wan of the tin commandments 
bechune revelly and taps*' 

I spoke of him as a man of singularly blameless life, 
an Integer Vitae, scelerisque purus. Of course the 
friends and relatives of the deceased bought hundreds 
of the pa{Sers and sent them broadcast, while the rest 
of the subscribers snorted with disgust. 

I wrote a few editorials of so complex a nature that 
nobody could understand them, which was just what 
I wanted, for I could not understand them mjrself, 
nor could John. In short we reduced the standing of 



HENRY A. SHUTE 287 

the paper, in the brief time before the demise of the 
editor, to its lowest ebb as an uplifter of the public 
morals and as a literary organ. 

Upon the death of the editor and owner, my friend 
bought the paper, and, very properly dispensing with 
my hitherto invaluable aid, succeeded in developing it 
to and maintaining it at a very high standard, which 
under his admirable management, it still maintains. 

In April of 1883 I wrote my first story, "The Story 
of Josh Zack," a tale of the unexplained disappearance 
of a locally popular colored boy in the forties. The 
main facts of the story were true, but I invented a few 
characters and a great many particulars to embellish 
suitably, and to give color to the tale, winding up with 
a description of two stained and weatherbeaten tablets 
in the "Old Cemetery." On Saturday, the day after 
publication, and on Sunday the regular day for ceme- 
tery promenades, the ground was black with citizens 
of all ages and stations in life hunting for the tablets, 
which of course could not be found. 

As a result I lost what little standing as a man and 
a brother my literary efforts on the News-Letter had 
left me. I should hate to write down just what some 
people said about me. It was years ago, and I have 
in a measure outlived it, possibly because I have out- 
lived many of my detractors. And in the thirty-seven 
years since that time lots of things have happened in 
Exeter. The Goddess of Liberty has been taken down 
from the tower of the Town Hall, her crinoline re- 
adjusted and hand-painted, and the scales of Justice, 
which are supposed to be even, made so by skilled 
carpentry. 

Then there have been several fires, a few embezzle- 
ments, several houses and barns have been painted, the 
first crocuses have appeared on the lawns of prominent 



288 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

citizens, the ice has gone out of Salt River every spring, 
the alewives have appeared with great regularity, the 
first dandelion has been duly plucked by our observant 
citizen, Mr. Blank, and duly embalmed in print, and 
really we have been too excited and busy to remember 
things. 

A few years later I found, in a small box that dated 
to my early boyhood days, several articles of a most 
interesting nature, among which was a youthful diary 
which I published serially in the News-Letter. Very 
much to my surprise it excited rather more than a local 
interest and I received an offer by the Everett Press 
of Boston to publish it in book form. 

"The Real Diary of a Real Boy'' appeared in the 
fall of 1902 and owing to the fact that it dealt with 
actual occurrences and with characters under their true 
names, and that it contained an appendix furnishing 
the addresses of the characters, and a short history of 
their subsequent achievements, the book met vnth a 
very unexpected success. 

This was followed by "Sequil," "Real Boys" and 
a dozen other books, in all of which the scenes were 
laid in Exeter, and the characters taken from our 
most worthy citizenry "naked and unashamed." 

It is a curious fact that the supposedly useless fads 
I had as a boy and as a youth, and which still remain 
with me, a love for music and musical instruments, for 
farm and domestic animals,, for woods, fields and 
country roads, and above all else for my own town 
Exeter and its citizens, have been the stimuli under 
which all my books and magazine articles have been 
written. 

And which book do I like the best ? That is difficult 
to say. I think the two last books published. 

"The Real Diary of the Worst Farmer" and "Brite 



HENRY A. SHUTE 289 

and Fair" are the best. I like the chapter in the latter 
beginning "September i" because it gives the best 
description of the utterly dissimilar but most delightful 
qualities of my father and mother. 

I am particularly fond of the closing chapter of "The 
Youth Plupy or the Lad with a Downy Chin/* as 
showing how much of a real hero my father was in 
my eyes. 

If I have shown any talent for seeing the funny 
side of life and for describing it, I owe it, I am sure, 
to the wit, the optimism and the whimsicality of my 
father, which, in a very small degree, I have inherited 
or developed by delightful association with him. Any 
facility in writing is due in a great measure to my 
experience as a volunteer obituary writer for the 
Exeter News-Letter in the old days. 

I have been frequently advised to quit the practice 
of law and to give all my time to writing. But no one 
but a lawyer, and a country lawyer at that, realizes 
the intense interest and the almost infinite variety of 
the general practice of law. And I hope that, for 
many years to come, I may sit in my office, and as the 
afternoons wear on and the shadows deepen, may look 
across our beautiful Square towards the west where 
the tall elms, the colonial houses and the church spires 
stand stark and black against the rose of the after- 
sunset, and watch them fade into darkness. 



CHAPTER XXVIII 



£D STREETER 



I WANTED to discover how "Dere Mabel" was 
written, so I wrote to the author, and this is what 
he sends me. It is a model autobiography. It con- 
tains no names or dates, but it does tell how he came 
to write. The dull and useless facts about Mr. Streeter 
are that he is a Harvard man, and was bom in New 
York in 1891, and that he is an Episcopalian. He is 
the first humorist I know who calls himself openly an 
Episcopalian (except all the bishops and clergy of the 
Episcopal church). But what he writes about himself 
is interesting: 

In view of the fact that this brief, autobiographical 
sketch may fall before the eyes of some young a^irant 
in the field of humorous writing, I approach the task 
with diffidence. By an indiscreet phrase I might draw 
into the shades some joyous, sunlit disposition, and the 
world, possessing too few, would never forgive the 
theft. 

To any persons seized with a desire to whet their 
sense of humor on the General Public I issue a solemn 
warning. To those hardy souls who choose to dis- 
regard the signs I offer the few cnunbs thrown me 
from time to time by experience. 

290 



ED. STREETER 291 

Primarily, a successful career in any line of endeavor 
involves covering a certain amount of vertical distance 
measured from the bottom to the top. Now there are, 
obviously, two ways of covering this distance. One 
is by beginning at the bottom and working up to the 
top; the other by beginning at the top and working 
down to the bottom. 

For some reason the ascending method is almost 
universally recommended. Personally, however, I 
favor the second, or descending, which I have foimd 
infinitely easier. As an example I can only refer to 
my first work, "Dere Mable." It could not have sold 
better had it been suppressed by the Anti-Vice Society. 
Following the Descending Theory in orderly sequence 
my publishers disposed of only half as many copies 
of the second attempt. The third never achieved the 
dignity of four numbers, and I refrain from giving 
data on the fourth lest it prejudice my future. 

Thus you will see that,, with four manuscripts, I 
covered the distance from the bottom to the top ; only, 
by the simple plan of moving against the traffic, I 
avoided congestion and accomplished the journey with 
a quarter of the effort usually required. By moving 
down instead of up I made the law of gravity my friend 
rather than my enemy. In this case, gravity is a great 
aid to a humorous writer. 

There is another point which should be impressed 
upon the serious-minded young humorist. The best 
way to insure the success of any book in lighter vein 
is to be unaware that you are writing it. When I 
wrote the '*D. M.'' letters I had no idea that they would 
ever appear in book form. For that reason only did 
I escape the temptation to be funny. 

In order to disentangle this paradox I must explain 
how the "letters'* ever came into the light of day. 



292 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Their entrance was that of a hemp rope through the 
needle's eye. 

In the fall of 191 7 while I was serving with the 
27th Division at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, I 
was assigned to the Camp Wadsworth Gas Attack — 
which I hasten to explain was a weekly paper, not a 
disorder. The task of editing a humorous page titled 
"The Incinerater" was foisted upon me. It was to be 
filled, according to orders, with "short, witty para- 
graphs on Army Life." 

I could think of many short things to say about the 
army, but they lacked all other qualities except the 
profane. As a humorist I grew mofose. 

When the first number was assembled for press 
"The Incinerater" contained two senile jokes which 
were originally employed by General McClellan to de- 
press the Confederate troops across the Potomac. The 
remainder of the page rivalled my mind. In despera- 
tion I wrote a letter from a soldier to his "sweetheart." 
It was a despicable trick, and only used as a last resort. 

I handed this to Dick Connell, the editor. With 
his usual good taste he O. K.'d the jokes as having 
considerable historic value. His criticism of the letter 
was to crumple it up and throw it under his desk. 
Whereupon he went to mess. 

Although I was unaware of it at the time, my future 
life hinged at this point upon Connell's appetite. Had 
he curbed it sternly and made up the dummy before 
he left, as was his duty — had he subordinated it to 
ordinary politeness and offered me the chance to eat 
first, I should not have been writing this article to- 
day. 

He did neither of these things, however. He went 
out to mess, leaving the dummy and me in the office. 
I quickly discovered that we had much in conunoiL 



ED. STREETER 293 

The rejected letter was smoothed out and shipped 
hastily to the printer with the rest of the manuscript. 

The thing didn't look so bad in print, so, the follow- 
ing week, I repeated. Repetition quickly grew into 
habit. 

Just before the Division sailed for France I received 
a five-day leave. It occurred to me that, while in the 
North, I might stumble on some editor optimistic 
enough to turn my manuscript into a book. So I 
stuffed the letters into a pair of extra putties and set 
forth. 

I had a note of introduction to a publishing house 
which specialized in school text-books and dictionaries. 
Somewhat to my indignation they turned down my 
offering after reading the title. With thirty-five 
minutes to catch my train for the South I looked up 
the publishing house nearest the station. Throwing 
the manuscript and my camp address on the Treasurer's 
desk, I ran from the office, leaving the firm somewhat 
doubtful as to my sanity. 

Fortunately for me the deal was finally closed. The 
book appeared a few days before my outfit sailed. For 
several months I dodged my mail about France. When 
it finally overtook me I learned that "Dere Mable" 
had grown to be a big, big girl. I began to feel more 
like her godson than her godfather. Writing looked 
to me like a glorious profession. 

Since then I have had more opportunity to establish 
a perspective. After two years I have decided that 
humor is one of the most trying and elusive tasks in 
the world. But yesterday I heard a similar groan 
from a lawyer, a portrait painter, and a bond salesman 
— so I do not take my decision too seriously. 

It is not a bad job if any one could ever discover 
how to do it. This little matter of humor has been 



294 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

analyzed, dissected and resolved into its component 
parts by scores of literary chemists. Yet nobody will 
ever be able to discover that mysterious drop which 
converts dead commonplace into warm, living reality 
— 3L reality which draws a reflex chuckle from the 
cross, busy old world. And it is the occasional sound 
of that spontaneous gurgle which repays so many da)rs 
of unproductive labor, and keeps the alchemists bend- 
ing over their phials. 



CHAPTER XXIX 



E. W. TOWNSEND 



SUNSET COX, who used to be one of our most 
"compelling'' humorists, has related in quite a 
charming manner how the reputation for being a 
humorist is likely to kill a man off in every other re- 
spect. There is no objection of course to a man dis- 
playing a sense of humor, say in Congress, but to write 
humor, to be known as a humorist — that is the difficult 
part. Elsewhere in this volume I have given some 
examples of this fatal tendency, and how it was par- 
ried — as in the case of Mark Twain and his "Joan of 
Arc/' 

Mr. Townsend, however, is probably the only hu- 
morist who lived down his reputation long enough to 
be elected to Congress. Although well known as the 
author of "Chimmie Fadden,'' this interesting fact lay^ 
in his past more like a bright and shining clou4 than a 
shadow. I rather think that he himself deplored it. 
But, at any rate, it had no apparent effect upon his 
congressional career. His comrades, so far as I know, 
did not hold it up against him. 

How he came to write "Chimmie Fadden" is told by 
Arthur B. Maurice perhaps better than I can tell it. 

The star reporter on the New York Sun, Mr. Town- 
send, was one day sent to "cover" a newsboys' dinner 

295 



296 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

at the Brace Memorial Newsboys Lodging House 
There the idea of Chimmie Fadden first came to him. 
At the dinner was the woman, a slum worker, who 
was the original of Miss Fannie of the stories. After 
the first tale had been written Mr, Charles A. Dana 
sent word ordering the writing of the second story. 
Others followed, and began to be known and quoted 
One day Mr. Chester S. Lord, then the managing 
editor of the Sun, said : "Can't you run up and find 
that little Bowery chap you've been writing about and 
get him to talk some more." "Oh," said Tovmsend, 
"he's purely an imaginary character." "Then imagine 
some more about him." 



It was a very different New York that was reflected 
for us in those Chimmie Fadden tales of the early 
nineties. The Bowery was still the Bowery, and was 
almost as Irish in origin and flavor as it had been in the 
days of the "Bowery boys." As a companion in life, 
Mr. Townsend bestowed upon Chimmie a French lady's 
maid, whom Chimmie dubbed "de Duchess." Other 
characters of the tales were "de Duchess's" mistress, 
Miss Fannie. Miss Fannie's father, to whom Chimmie 
flippantly referred to as "His Whiskers," and Mr. 
Paul, who eventually became Miss Fannie's second 
husband. One of the drollest of the stories was that 
which told of the appearance of Chimmie and "de 
Duchess" at the festivities of the Rose Leaf Social 
Outing and Life Saving Association. When Mr. 
Townsend was in San Francisco he and a number of 
other members of the Bohemian Club spent most of 
their leisure time cruising about on a yacht. They 
adopted the humorous title "Rose Leaf Social and 
Outing Club." On one of these cruises they 



E. W. TOWNSEND 297 

the crew of a boat that had capsized in the bay, and 
the "Life Saving" was added in commemoration of 
this event. 



After the stories that made up the first Qiimmie 
Fadden book had appeared in the Sun Mr. Townsend 
went to Mr. Dana to ask permission to have them 
brought out in book form. Mr. Dana, in giving the 
required consent, added, as he then thought ex- 
travagantly, "And I hope that you sell ten thousand 
copies." A few months later, a close friend of Mr. 
Dana gave Mr. Townsend a dinner to celebrate the 
hundred thousandth copy of "Chimmie Fadden" sold. 
The next morning Mr. Dana went to Mr. Townsend's 
desk in the Sun office and, after referring to the dinner, 
said: "Can you tell me why 'Chimmie Fadden' has 
reached a hundred thousand?" "Because," replied 
Townsend, "of the sentimental relations of Chimmie 
Fadden and Mr. Paul toward Miss Fannie." 



Probably most readers have forgotten that Mr. 
Townsend was once challenged to a duel by no less a 
personage than the late Richard Harding Davis. 
About the same time that he was writing the "Chimmie 
Fadden" stories Mr. Townsend was making a certain 
"Major Max" series the medium of his passing ob- 
servations on aspects of current life in general. In 
Richard Harding Davis's "Our English Cousins" 
there was described the changing of the guard at St. 
James' in London. With the description, Major Max 
found flippant fault to such effect as to provoke from 
the creator of "Van Bibber" a challenge worthy of a 
less hard-headed age. Soon after Mr. Davis's "The 



298 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Princess Aline" appeared and a San Francisco paper 
telegraphed Mr. Townsend for a fifteen-hundred word 
review of the book. The review — ^probably the only 
book review ever telegraphed — ^was, however, measured 
and laudatory, and contained no allusion to the nar- 
rowly averted "affair of honor." 

What is so singular now, after this charming account 
of Mr. Townsend's creations, is that the man is so 
silent. Surely a genuine humorist like Mr. Townsend 
ought, in the maturity of his powers, to produce gen- 
uine satire of a high order. 

Mr. Townsend's observations on Congress alone, 
written as he alone could write them, would be delight- 
ful reading. 



CHAPTER XXX 

J. A. WALDRON 
By J. A. W. 

I GO back to first principles in journalism. Im- 
patient of school, I began active life as a printer's 
apprentice at my birthplace, Sherburne, New York, 
in the office of a country weekly. The "printing 
office'* in a small town then was — as no doubt it still 
is — the most fascinating of local institutions. And a 
printer then was a man with a comprehensively prac- 
tical knowledge of the Art Preservative, whereas now 
he is competent only in some special branch of the 
craft, for machinery has developed it to a manu- 
facturing enterprise. 

I entered journalism as a young man in Albany, on 
the Argus, when the late St. Clair McKelway was 
editor of that journal, Daniel Manning, later Cleve- 
land's Secretary of the Treasury, owner, and Colonel 
Daniel S. Lamont political writer. I took up Colonel 
Lament's assignment as reporter of the Senate and 
Capitol Hill, in addition to reporting the Court of 
Appeals, service for the Associated Press, and special 
work for several big out-of-town papers when Lamont 
went with Governor Cleveland as private secretary. 

From the Argus I went to the Albany Evening 
Journal under the W. J. Arkell regime and the chief 
editorship of the late John A. Sleicher — I becoming 

299 



300 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

city editor. My predecessor in that position was 
Charles R. Sherlock, now prominent in the United 
Cigar Stores administration. As city editor of the 
Evening Journal I had the early training in newspaper 
work of men who have distinguished themselves in 
that and other fields. Among them were John P. Gavit, 
remembered as Washington manager of the Associated 
Press, afterward managing editor of the New York 
Evening Post, then with Harper & Brothers; Henry 
I. Hazelton, for ten years night editor of the New York 
Press, associated with other metropolitan papers, chief 
writer and translator for the Italian Bureau in this 
country during the war, and now managing his own 
business in Chicago; Thomas N. Sammons, afterward 
prominent as a newspaper man in Tacoma, then in a 
senatorial secretaryship in Washington, and later 
consul-general at Tokyo, where, and in other cities in 
Japan he served this government imder at least three 
administrations. Other men with me on the Evening 
Journal in whose early careers I had some influence 
were Amos P. Wilder, later a prominent editor in the 
West and a representative of this country abroad; 
Eugene Chamberlain, appointed Commissioner of 
Navigation by President Cleveland, and still holding 
the position; and Robert Fuller, afterward private 
secretary to Governor Hughes, then on the New York 
Herald, and now secretary of the Merchants Asso- 
ciation of New York. 

I came to New York primarily to secure publication 
of a manuscript on Shakespeare — indorsed as a notable 
literary discovery by the late Professor Dowden of 
Dublin University, and declared to be the most valuable 
addition to Shakespeariana in a generation by the late 
Professor William J. Rolfe, of Cambridge— but that 
is another story, and an amusing one. At that time^ 



J. A. WALDRON 301 

some thirty years ago— a noted memorist, whose pro- 
fessional style was **Loisette/' after successes the world 
over, had an office on Fifth Avenue, and engaged me 
to write a book on memory systems for him. That 
involved a lot of study, as it began with the ancients, 
but he paid me for it, and I wrote the book. He 
wanted, he said, to bequeath his system to the public, 
and by the book to show how superior his system was 
to any that had preceded it. His system was based on 
the association of ideas. The plates for the work 
were made, but the book was never published. 

In Albany, in my newspaper time there, that city 
was, and long had been, a great dramatic center, as a 
history of the American stage will reveal. And there 
in those days the dramatic criticism was quite metro- 
politan. On the side, with my other work, I had been 
a dramatic critic there, and had some acquaintance with 
the contemporary stage. Thus naturally in New York 
I gravitated to the Dramatic Mirror, and soon became 
its managing editor. For a long period when I was 
with the Mirror it was recognized abroad as well as 
here as the leading dramatic journal. Withgme on the 
Mirror were such men as the late Albert Ellery Berg 
and Arthur Hornblow; and later I had a hand in 
training — for then they were by no means as well 
known as now — as staff men Townsend Walsh, since 
prominent in the business end of the theater as well as 
a writer; Whitman Bennett, well known in the better 
side of the motion-picture industry; Porter Emer- 
son Brown, Channing Pollock, Jules Goodman, and 
others. 

For eight years, while I was editor of the Mirror 
— a period during which her greatest successes were 
scored — I evolved the press publicity for Mrs. Fiske. 
Some of her plays during the time were "Tess of the 



302 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

D'Urbervilles," "Mary of Magdala," and "Becky 
Sharp." 

I wrote for Judge, when a young daily newspaper 
man, and when the late Isaac Gregory was editor. I 
have been editor and literary editor of His Honor for 
some ten years. If I have an3rthing to be proud of, 
aside from my having had a hand in developing a 
number of good men, it is this : That, after many years 
in the very different fields, I have noted I happily de- 
veloped new angles as a writer in a still different 
field. 



CHAPTER XXXI 



HARRY LEON WILSON 



HARRY LEON WILSON had the distinction 
of being the editor of the old Puck during its 
palmiest days, from 1896 to 1902. After he 
left the paper it went through a long series of vidssi- 
tudes. It was finally bought by Mr. Straus, and he 
disposed of it to Mr. Hearst. Mr. Hearst, through 
his representatives, endeavored to put it on its feet, 
but Puck by that time — which was only a couple of 
years or so ago— was to all intents and purposes feet- 
less. It was not, however, as its editor that Mr. Wilson 
achieved his distinction. He was destined to greater 
things. I tried to get him to write something for this 
book, but he was silent. Then, not wishing to break 
my rule that I myself must write as little of the book 
as possible, I got a friend of his to write the following 
biography : 

Harry Leon Wilson is so modest that, if it weren't 
for communicative friends of his, we'd not know much 
about him. One of them who "knew him when He 
wore knee pants, and apparently had no other object 
in life except to read, chuckle to himself, and grow 
fat" vouchsafes the assurance that he is not English, 
as some folks think he must be from his "Ruggles of 

303 



304 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Red Gap." His father came from New York State 
to Illinois. Harry was born in Oregon, about one 
hundred miles from Chicago. His home town wasn't 
proud of him, for he wouldn't go to school. The 
first money he ever earned, $i, was paid for the arduous 
task of setting half a column of type. He studied 
stenography, but he didn't do an3rthing with it except 
to keep it on hand when he went with the men sent 
out to the wild Sierra Nevada coimtry to write a life 
of Fremont. Before any one knew it he was sending 
stories to the East and getting them accepted. Puck 
offered him a job on the staff — ^and he's just gone on 
writing best-sellers, and jaunting off to Europe. With 
Booth Tarkington he wrote that shekel-luring comedy 
"The Man From Home." His early books were 
illustrated by Rose Cecil O'Neil, the Kewpics' mamma, 
who later became Mrs. Wilson. She isn't any more, 
though. Mr. Wilson, with a new, charming, and 
talented wife, is one of the colony of authors and 
artists living on the coast a few hours' ride from 
San Francisco. 

Mr. Wilson has other qualities besides the talent of 
writing humor. Indeed his humor may be said to be 
a by-product. He is a novelist ; he is a satirist. He is 
one of the few humorists in America who have risen 
above the personal pronoun "I" and given to his work 
a lasting quality that will make it long remembered as 
a part of the best literature of the time. 

His last book, ''Merton of the Movies/' fully sus- 
tains his reputation. 



CHAPTER XXXII 



CAROLYN WELLS 



CAROLYN WELLS has so many books to her 
credit— or discredit, as she is so modest as to 
insist upon — ^that one is quite bewildered by 
their variety and extent. It may be said of her, as 
Portia said of Mercy, however, that the quality of her 
humor is not strained, but falleth like the gentle dew 
from heaven alike upon the just and unjust. 

It was many years ago— it must have been near the 
beginning of this century that I recall quite vividly 
one day receiving a manuscript from Miss Wells. I 
am quite certain that it was the first manuscript she 
had sent to Life, of which I was then the literary edi- 
tor. It consisted of some highly amusing verses about 
the wearing of hats by women at the theater. At that 
time this hideous custom was still in vogue, and Miss 
Wells undoubtedly performed a great service for suf- 
fering humanity by thus lampooning it. I considered 
the verses so good that they were duly illustrated by 
Mr. Allan Gilbert. 

The joy of thus finding, or at least welcoming, a new 
contributor is one of the high compensations of being 
an editor. At that time I flattered myself that I was 
the only one that knew about Miss Wells. In this, 
however, I was undoubtedly mistaken. Miss Wells 

305 



3o6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

herself declares that her two guardian angels among 
mortals were St. Nicholas and the Century Magazine, 
and, among immortals, Oliver Herford and Gelett 
Burgess. It was to Mr. Burgess, at that time 
editor of the inimitable Lark, that she sent her first 
work. 

She once said in an interview : 

"I regard Gelett Burgess and Oliver Herford as my 
masters. From them I learned all I know about non- 
sense. It was they who taught me the technique of 
verse making and the science of silliness. Yes, silli- 
ness, to be genuinely funny, must be scientific. It's 
strange but people don't give us nonsense folks credit 
for one-tenth the gray matter we've really got to have 
in order to manufacture our particular brand of literary 
product. Now if we were to write sentimental stuff 
about love and the moon and the wind sighing in the 
trees we would get far more credit, though it isn't 
half so hard to do. Why, I don't mind sa3dng that 
I had to work patiently learning my trade before I 
could write anything that the editors would so much 
as look at, though I am certain I could have trained 
myself to reel off love sonnets in much less time." 

The Price of Success 

"Unappreciated genius! Not a bit of it!" she 
echoed, laughing at the suggestion. "I don't believe 
in unappreciated genius, and besides, appreciated or 
otherwise, I am not a genius. I'm an honest, respect- 
able working girl, and I couldn't be a genius if I 
tried. I know what my limitations are and they arc 
very rigidly drawn. I work pretty hard, but I get 
a lot of fun out of my work, probably because I 



CAROLYN WELLS 307 

always try to infuse as much fun as possible into it. 
I am constitutionally fun-loving. I believe in having 
all the fun one possibly can. Writing nonsense came 
naturally to me, but, like most other things in their 
natural state, my faculty was quite worthless until I 
began training it. I kept sending things to the papers, 
and the stuff came back. It came back because it was 
trash. I knew it was trash, but at the same time I had 
faith in myself. I pegged away. I had made up my 
mind I was going to write nonsense verse. I was 
inspired by the genius and example of Lewis Carroll. 
Of course I didn't hope ever to attain his distinction; 
still I thought well enough of myself to believe I had 
some stray talents in that direction. All I needed was 
a trainer, a teacher, and I knew it. At last I found 
him in Mr. Gelett Burgess." 

The chocolates in the little dish were all done now, 
and Miss Wells rose, crossed the room to another 
table and brought over a fresh, unopened, five pound 
box. 

"Where did I leave off? Oh, yes, about Mr. 
Burgess. Well, that was in 1895. I got hold of a 
copy of the Lark one day. It was a San Francisco 
paper, devoted to nonsense, and Mr. Burgess was the 
editor. He was also, it appeared, the sole contributor. 
I supposed this was because nonsense-verse writers 
were so rare, but I afterward discovered my mistake. 
Among other literary gems I read in that precious 
publication was : 

'The window has four little panes ; 
But one have I; 

The window-panes are in its sash — 
I wonder why !' 



3o8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Miss Wells undid the string on the box and filled 
up the bonbon dish afresh. Then she laughed. 

"It may not have been the most exalted ambition 
of which a young Christian lady of my bringing up 
should have been capable, but I must confess that, when 
I read those verses, I felt I would rather be the author 
of either one of them than to have written, let us say, 
'Evangeline/ I immediately wrote to Mr. Burgess 
asking if he wished contributions for his somewhat 
erratic paper. The letter I received in reply was not 
encouraging — indeed, it was rather sarcastic A less 
nonsensical person than myself would have voted Mr. 
Burgess a brute, and would have told him to go hang 
himself and his paper. But I, who never did take life, 
or men, or the things men say seriously, sent him 
instead a contribution. It came back very promptly, 
with the added information that the editor did not 
think me up to the mark, and that I had better stop 
trying to write nonsense stuff. I replied with still 
another contribution, and this time I met with a 
hurricane of ridicule. 

"He not only rejected my poor verses, but he spumed 
them, he hooted at them. Nothing daunted, I even 
replied to this assault upon my vanity, and in his reply 
to this letter, which also contained another contribu- 
tion, Mr. Burgess flattered me by pointing out in a 
score of ways just why and how I had failed as a 
poet of nonsense. That was the first encouragement 
anybody had ever given me, and thus encouraged I 
began to send him my stuff with systematic regularity, 
and he quite as systematically, and quite as regularly, 
rejected them, when they were worth rejecting. It 
usually happened, though, that they were tossed in the 
wastebasket, though the editor never failed to write 



CAROLYN WELLS 309 

me in criticism of them. I thus got into a spirited 
correspondence, and fourteen months after I had sent 
in my first contribution, and after submitting hundreds, 
only to have them rejected, at last I had one accepted. 
If I don't deserve credit for patience, I don't know who 
does. During this weary period of probation, while I 
was spending all my pin money in postage to San 
Francisco, I was learning a great deal about the tech- 
nique of verse writing, and considerable, too, about the 
science, or rather the philosophy, of nonsense. One 
of the first lessons I was taught by Mr. Burgess was 
the ability to distinguish between silliness and non- 
sense. Silliness is chaotic, while nonsense — ^that is, 
nonsense manufactured for commercial purposes — ^has 
got to be organic, well ordered, and, you might say, 
almost mathematical in its precision, and in its certainty 
to hit the reader or listener straight between the ejres, 
as it were. 

Philosophy of Nonsense 

"In real genuine nonsense, there is always a mostx 
ludicrous, and, at the same time, a most logical surprise 
awaiting. Without the element of surprise nonsense 
fails to be nonsense. Not only must it be logical, but 
it must not be too obvious, and it must always be 
truthful, that is it must be truthful and convincing 
within the range of probabilities set forth in the argu- 
ment and proposition. That is what I mean by the 
mathematical precision of a genuine nonsense verse. 
You see, we nonsense poets, like to think that the 
mechanism of our art rests on principles as unalterable 
and as fundamental as Greek tragedy." 

In this account of herself, which relates to her earlier 
wdrk, Miss Wells speaks of her friends. Being our 



3IO OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

chief woman humorist, and a qtiite ubiquitous argument 
against that foolish declaration that women have no 
sense of humor, her friends among men writers num- 
ber quite a host in themselves, and many of them have 
written of her talents in the most engaging manner. 
Mr. Arthur Bartlett Maurice, one time editor of the 
Bookman, in an article has declared himself as follows : 

If Miss Carolyn Wells has any grievance against 
life it is that she never receives credit for what she 
considers the best thing that she ever wrote. Some 
years ago a large business enterprise made her an offer 
of one hundred dollars for a suitable phrase to be 
used for advertising purposes. She sent back "The 
Smile That Won't Come Off." Its success was in- 
stantaneous. But the phrase was at once incorporated 
into the American version of the English language, 
with the quite natural result that Miss Wells' part 
in the matter was entirely forgotten. When Mr. Gelett 
Burgess first introduced the now hackneyed terms of 
"Bromide'' and "Sulphite" he made the statement that 
there were only seven female Sulphites in existence. 
He placed Miss Wells at the head of the list. "She 
is a Sulphite of the Sulphites," he said. "You can 
never know what she is going to think, do or say. 
Sometimes she isn't even witty. But none of us could 
be witty if there were no Bromides to be made fun of." 
This opinion of Miss Wells* uncertainty is shared 
by a certain well-known theatrical manager. Miss 
Wells had written a book for an opera whidi had been 
submitted to the manager for consideration. As a 
whole it could not be used, but there was one lyric that 
the manager wanted to interpolate in another opera. 
He telegraphed, asking if he could have the Kitten 



CAROLYN WELLS 311 

Song. Her reply was, "You can have the kitten, you 
can have the kitten." The next time the manager met 
Miss Wells he asked her why she had twice told him 
that he could have the kitten. 

**Well/' she replied, "I could send ten words for the 
same price as five, and I thought I might just as well 
get all that the telegraph company would stand for. 
I always did love bargains.'* Miss Wells considers 
her best bit of work to be her reply to Gelett Burgess's 
Purple Cow, modeled on Chaucer. 

"A mayde ther was, semely and meke enow. 

She sate a-milken of a Purpil Cowe; 

Rosy hire cheke as in the Moneth of Maye 

And sikerly her merry songe was gay 

As of the Larke uprist, washen in dewe, 

Like Shene of Sterres sperkled hire eyen two. 

Now came ther by that way a hendy knight, 

The Mayde espien in morwening Light. 

A fair Person he was, of Corage trewe. 

With lusty Berd and chekes of Rody Hewe: 

'Dere Ladye' (quod he) *far and wide I've straid, 

Uncouthe Aventure in strange Countree made, 

Fro Berwike unto Ware, Parde I vowe 

Erewhiles I never saw a Purpil Cowe! 

Fayne wold I knowe how catel thus can be? 

Tel me, I praie you, of yore Courtesie !' 

The Mayde her Milken stent. *Goode Sir,' she saide, 

'The master's mandement on us ylaid 

Decrees that in these yclept Gilden Houres 

Hys Kyne shall ete of nought but Vylet Floures.' *' 

But perhaps Miss Wells' really best bit of work \ 
was her poster girl parody on "The Blessed Damozel" : 



312 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

The blessed Poster Girl leaned out 
From a pinky-purple heaven: 

One eye was red and one was green; 
Her bang was cut uneven ; 

She had three fingers on her hand, 
And the hairs on her head were seven. 

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem. 

No stmflowers did adorn; 
But a heavy Turkish portiere 

Was very neatly worn; 
And the hat that lay along her back 

Was yellow like canned com. 

It was a kind of wabbly wave 

That she was standing on, 
And high aloft she flung a scarf 

That must have weighed a ton; 
And she was rather tall — ^at least 

She reached up to the sun. 

She curved and writhed, and then she 
Less green of speech than blue, 

'Terhaps I am absurd — perhaps 
I don't appeal to you ; 

But my artistic worth depends 
Upon the point of view." 

I saw her smile, although her eyes 

Were only smudgy smears; 
And then she swished her swirling arms 

And wagged her gorgeous ears. 
She sobbed a blue-and-green-checkcd sob. 

And wept some purple tears. 



CAROLYN WELLS 313 

Miss Wells IS said to have a characteristically 
original rule for measuring the proper length of a 
book when she writes it herself. One of her many 
publishers asked her recently "Why do you always 
send us your book manuscript in a five-pound candy 
box?" "You see," replied Miss Wells, "when I fed 
that I am going to write a book I always buy a five- 
pound box of candy and a pint of ink. Then I begin 
to write. And when the candy is all gone, and the 
ink is all used up, I know that the book is long 
enough," 

It is interesting to learn that Miss Wells numbered 
among her friends that fine American poet Joyce 
Kilmer, who gave his life for his country and the 
tragedy of whose death still lingers with those of us 
who knew and loved him. In 191 5 Mr. Kilmer wrote 
for the Times an account of an interview with Miss 
Wells. Space forbids its completeness, but the follow- 
ing extracts are too good to omit : 

"Then Americans aren't either humorous or 
serious?" I asked. 

"Not in my opinion," she answered. "English 
humor, I think, is humor. But American humor is 
wit." 

"Isn't that contrary to the generally accepted 
opinion?" I asked. "Isn't Mark Twain considered the 
greatest humorist of modern times?" 

"Personally," said Miss Wells, "I never become 
wildly enthusiastic over Mark Twain as a humorist. 
He was a great novelist, a great \ interpreter, and he 
undoubtedly was witty. But I believe — ^and this is 
merely my own opinion, which is in this respect at 



314 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

variance with that of most of my friends — that much 
of the enthusiasm over Mark Twain's fun is merely 
a matter of tradition. 

"People have been trained to believe that Mark 
Twain is a great humorist. So they laugh at his 
books and say that they are funny when as a matter 
of fact the fun has no real appeal to them. Much 
of Mark Twain's ftm, like that of Bill Nye, is hope- 
lessly old-fashioned ; it belongs to a period wholly cUf- 
ferent from our own. 

"I do not mean that Mark Twain was not a great 
writer. But if we look for a modem writer of Mark 
Twain's t)rpe we do not find a humorist, we find a 
novelist like Mr. Arnold Bennett, for example." 

"And the English," I said, "are humorous ?" 

"The English humor," said Miss Wells, "is, I think, 
the best in the world. Now, I'm in no sense of the 
word an Anglomaniac. I am not saying that humor 
is better than wit or wit better than humor. But, as 
I said, I think that the English are htunorous and the 
Americans witty." 

"Who are the greatest of living humorists ?" I said. 

Miss Wells reflected for a moment. 

"I think," she said, "that Sir Owen Seaman and 
Oliver Her ford are the funniest men alive. Oliver 
Herford is English, and his work is thoroughly and 
definitely humorous, as is that of Sir Owen Seaman. 

"But using the word *humor' in its widest sense, 
I said, "what is the essential difference between the 
English variety and the American?" 

"American humor," Miss Wells replied, "is finer 
than English humor, but it is often in bad taste. 
English humor is broader, and it seldom is in bad 
taste." 

"How do you account for this difference?" I asked 






CAROLYN WELLS 315 

"It is a matter of national character," she replied. 
"There is the same difference between English and 
American social life, business methods and everything 
else. We are quick, deft, nervous, energetic; there- 
fore our sense of fun finds its expression in the nimble 
exercise of wit. The English take everything much 
more seriously, therefore, their sense of fun finds ex- 
pression in the more serious and dignified exercise of 
humor. 

"Humor can be and generally is, dignified. Wit 
seldom is dignified. Only serious people can be really 
humorous, and Americans are not serious." 

"What," I asked, abruptly, "is a sense of humor?" 

Miss Wells did not hesitate or parry my question for 
a second. 

"A sense of humor," she said, "is an appreciation of 
a happy misfit in the eternal fitness of things." 

"And what," I asked, "is wit?" 

"That is a harder question," she answered. "But 
sometimes wit is the verbal expression of a sense of 
humor." 

The conversation drifted back to certain humorists, 
and Miss Wells again mentioned Oliver Herford. 

"Did you ever hear the story of Oliver Herford and 
the Impressionist?" she asked. "The Impressionist 
painter was laying down the law to Oliver Herford, 
and objecting particularly to his making so many 
pictures of kittens. 

" *0f course you can draw,' he said, 'but why will 
you draw nothing but kittens? It's kittens, kittens, 
kittens all the while.' 

"Oliver Herford listened patiently. • At last he 
said, *Yes, I do make pictures of kittens. But at 
any rate I call them kittens. I don't call them 
landscapes !' " 



3i6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Miss Wells, who edited a few years ago a Satire 
Anthology, does not believe that America has produced 
many distinguished satirists. 

"Satire is almost a lost art in the United States," 
she said. "We have no time for satire." 

"Satire requires long and serious thought. Wc don't 
take things seriously enough to satirize them. The 
English take literature and life so seriously that they 
readily become satirical. 

"The greatest of all satire is social satire. And to 
write social satire one must seriously regard social 
ranks and gradations. We don't do that in the United 
States, so we don't produce great satirists. 

"I suppose that the most distinguished of our satir- 
ists was James Russell Lowell. Because of his 'Biglow 
Papers' some critics rank him with Thackeray as a 
satirist. 

"Of course all our writers of light verse are satirists, 
in a way. Oliver Her ford sometimes writes satire, 
but most of the best htmior and wit of our time has 
in it a 'sweetness and light' that does not propaVf 
belong to satire. Gelett Burgess's 'Book of Bromides' 
is satire. 

"Who was the greatest English satirist?" I asked. 
"^Vas it Shakesoeare '^" 

"No," said Miss Wells. "Not Shakespeare. Shake- 
speare is the greatest genius, of course, but not the 
greatest satirist. Let's see, who was the greatest 
satirist? Carlyle was a great social satirist, but a 
satirist of the heaviest sort. 

"Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear were not satirists, 
they were great nonsense writers. W. S. Gilbert was 
the greatest writer of light satire. But Thackeray— 
that's it, of course! Thackeray surely is the 
satirist in the English language." 



CAROLYN WELLS ^ 317 

Miss Wells believes that the youth of the United 
States has much to do with the national attitude toward 
wit and humor. 

*'A young nation," she said, "like a young person, 
refuses to take things seriously. So the American 
people have a quick appreciation of wit and the English 
people have a deep appreciation of humor. As America 
grows older this will change. 

"Rudyard Kipling is a good example of the English 
type of humorists. And nearly all English novelists 
show flashes of humor. On the other hand, nearly 
all American writers, novelists, essayists, even histor- 
ians, show flashes of wit. 

"And then, most of the American humorists are 
young, very young indeed, compared to the English 
humorous writers. When I was in London I saw the 
famous mahogany table in the office of Punch. Carved 
on it were the initials of the great contributors to 
Punch — nearly all of them men well on in years. Now, 
if an American humorous weekly were to have such a 
table, the initials carved on it would be the initials of 
young men." 

Returning to the subject of the characteristics of 
English humor. Miss Wells said : 

"Here is a joke that might stand as a t)rpe of British 
humor : A man who had dined very well indeed was 
unsteadily endeavoring to get to his home. He wavered 
up to a policeman and said : *Is this Piccadilly Circus 
or is it Tuesday?' 

"Now, I think that is a very funny story* But 
there are many intelligent Americans whom it does not 
amuse at all. There is nothing witty about it; but 
it is thoroughly humorous. It is founded on absurdity, 
like most English jokes. 

"Nearly every picture and joke in Punch depends 






3i8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

for its effect on humor. And nearly every joke in 
any American humorous weekly depends on wit." 

Miss Wells, although she thinks that the general 
attitude toward humor changes with the age of a 
nation, believes that the greatest humor is ageless. 
The funniest things written to-day," she said, 
would have been laughed at a hundred years ago, and 
will be laughed at a hundred years from now. Humor 
has identity per se; it is not ephemeral. The greatest 
humorists are accidents, splendidly independent of 
time and place." 

V 

In 1918 Miss Wells was married to Mr. Hadwin 
Houghton (since deceased) and took up her residence 
in New York. Mr. George Horace Lorimer, editor 
of the Saturday Evening Post, having requested her 
to write the "Story of her Life," she gave this inter- 
esting account of herself: 

Since reading the autobiographies of Henry Adams 
and Ella Wheeler Wilcox, I have been conscious of a 
strong desire to write my own. Another pet ambition 
of mine is to appear in prose on the pages of the 
Saturday Evening Post. And now, having been invited 
to kill these two birds with one stone, my cup of 
satisfaction is fuller than it was. 

And yet, confronted with the longed-for opportunity, 
I can't think of a thing to say that would interest 
anybody. For I was born and brought up in New 
Jersey, and, except for our ex-President, New Jersey 
never reared anybody very interesting. 

I am not disparaging my native state. It really 
has beautiful trees — but my soul is urban, and con- 
demned to live under said trees. I longed for dty 



CAROLYN WELLS 319 

life "as the hart panteth for the water brook." Every 
other ambition was swallowed up in the desire to 
become an integral part of the population of New York 
City. Then I heard a story of a man who was in jail 
for twenty years, when a bright thought struck him 
and he jumped out of the window. 

My bright thought was that by marrying I could 
live in New York ! So I did and do. 

I thought Fd give up my writing when I married; 
it seemed more proper so. But inexorable publishers 
insisted on my filling unexpired contracts that 
called for certain masterpieces of fiction, so I am still 
at it. Moreover, my husband proved a most satis- 
factory collaborator. 

To write of myself is not so easy as I anticipated, 
for I am suffused with that extreme guilty feeling of 
egotism — ^and yet I have the smug satisfaction of 
knowing that in autobiography egotism is inevitable, 
even admirable. The kindly editor asked me to dilate 
on my outdoor sports. But I never go out of doors if 
I can possibly help it. Since the war made it im- 
possible for me to take my walks abroad I don't take 
them at all. I am happy only among interior decora- 
tions, and truly blissful only when playing bridge or 
reading detective stories. The last time I was really 
out of doors was in Eg)rpt. 

Now, I dare say, I ought to write about my literary 
work. But it isn't work ; it is only play. I can't bring 
myself to take it seriously. I think I am of the ilk 
of Mr. Pope's "mob of gentlemen who wrote with 
ease," and though I've been told what sort of reading 
easy writing makes, yet I incline to the attitude of 
Sentimental Tommy's Mr. Duthie, who said : "What's 
the need of being so particular? Surely, the art of 
writing consists in using the first word that comes 



320 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

and hurrying on." So I hurried on, until now I have 
over a hundred. books to my discredit, and have most 
kindly relations with thirty-one different publishing 
houses. My subjects comprise all sorts — from thrill- 
ing detective stories to gentle girls' books ; from humor- 
ous verse to grave essays. I follow any primrose 
path that I strike in the fields of literature — except 
vers libre. 

No, I do not care for the new poetry — but I have 
influential friends who do — so it isn't entirely wasted 

I read all the new books by the best authors, the 
worst writers, and the mediums. 

I have looked into spiritism lately, because when a 
new movement — or the recrudescence of an old one- 
interests me, I investigate it thoroughly, card catalogue 
it in my brain, and put it away. 

And I have concluded that I agree with Hereward 
Carrington — there may be two per cent of truth in 
the matter of spirit manifestation, but there is posi- 
tively ninety-eight per cent of fraud or self-deception. 
But, after all, we must admit that P. T. Bamum knew 
his public. 

My life has been especially fortunate in the matter 
of friends. Stevenson said that, in a lifetime, one 
could not hope to meet more than twelve absolutely 
congenial spirits. I think that allowance far too liberal 
I never met but one, and I married him. But friends, 
good, kindly, interesting, clever friends, have been 
as plenty as blackberries. As an alleged humorist, I 
have achieved friendships that might not have come to 
me otherwise. 

Theodore Roosevelt became my friend, primarily 
because of my nonsense verse. In memory I sec him 
now, walking up and down his veranda at Sagamore 
Hill, hands behind him, while I repeated ridiodous 



CAROLYN WELLS 321 

rhymes until he memorized them — ^and begged for 
more. 

Similarly, my comic muse gained for me the friend- 
ship of such men as Sir Owen Seaman, editor of 
London Punch, and Sir William S. Gilbert, of "Pina- 
fore'' fame. 

The latter said to me most kindly that he saw no 
reason why I shouldn't write light opera librettos for 
American audiences as successfully as he had done 
for the English people. I still treasure the compliment, 
but the only light opera I ever wrote graced the boards 
of the New Amsterdam Theater for but one short 
month. So I don't think I shall try that again, for I 
am always willing to accept my limitations. 

Not long since a magazine editor invited me to write 
a serial for him, which could afterward be brought out 
in book form, and become a best seller. 

It sounded attractive, and after inquiring carefully 
as to length of instalments and such details, I began it. 
I worked very hard over it and, with pride, I took him 
the first instalment for consideration. His verdict was 
that it fell so far below his expectations and desires 
it was really useless for me to write more of it. 

I was disappointed, but bore the blow cheerfully and 
ivent back to my beaten tracks — ^and to beating a few 
new ones. And so my literary output has come to be 
remarkable for quantity rather than quality. 

Having mastered the psychology of detachment, I 
can produce more copy in less time than any other 
^Titer in my class. I am more fond of achieving than 
striving. My ambitions must be realized — or dis- 
missed as impossible. My theories must prove to be 
facts, or be discarded as worthless. My efforts must 
be crowned with success, or discontinued. 

As for ideals, standards, aspirations — ^these are 



322 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

chameleon words, and take color from their speakers 
— often false tints. 

One of our foreign ambassadors once told me that 
he went a thousand miles into the desert to get away 
from the word "uplift," and it was almost the first one 
to greet his ear when he arrived at his destination— 
and I cannot feel that I am quite alone in my in- 
ability to enjoy the conversation of a class of people 
in to-day's limelight who are, as Brander Matthews 
expresses it, ''educated beyond their intelligence,** yet 
I would not be considered as, in any way, intolerant of 
the world or its denizens — a broad, sweet tolerance is 
to my mind one of the greatest of the Christian graces. 
But this is meant to be an autobiography — not auto- 
introspection. And I am constantly haunted by a 
conviction that I ought to write of my "work.*' They 
all do. 

Well, at present I am engaged in the compilation 
of a volume of humorous verse. It will be the largest 
collection ever brought together in one volume, and 
will be on India paper (since published). 

Dr. Coates once said: "If you want to be happy 
make a collection." 
'What of r 

'Oh, anything; only make a collection." 
I have collected all my life — from brass candlesticks 
to old mahogany furniture ; from authors* sigfned letters 
to editors* signed checks; but the joy of collecting 
humorous verse outweighs them all. My only regret 
is that I have but one volume to fill, big though it is, 
and that I am forced to omit hundreds of wonderful 
finds. 

To work is decidedly educational too. I've learned 
that the real reason I can't care very much for Walt 
Whitman is because he had no sense of humor. 



id 



CAROLYN WELLS 323 

Not that I would have wanted him to write humor- 
ous verse — though he did! — but I find that the most 
serious, exalted and sublime literature is the work of 
men whose sense of humor provides them with a mental 
balanced ration. A sense of humor necessarily endows 
one with a humor of sense — ^which sounds epigram- 
matic, even if Fm not quite sure of what I mean 
by it. 

Perhaps George Eliot expressed it better when she 
said : "Hang on to your sense of humor. It'll carry 
you through when religion fails, and when money and 
friends are clean out of sight!'' And, taken by and 
large, a sense of humor connotes happiness. 

For happiness in this world is merely the ability 
to recognize it, and to it the humorless mind is often 
blind. Whereas the eyes of the soul filled with humor 
are blinded to many of life's unpleasantnesses. 

My own attitude is that of Kipling's Tramp-Royal : 

Speakin' in general, I 'ave tried 'em all, 
The 'appy roads that take you o'er the world. 
Speakin' in general, I 'ave found them good. 



So write, before I die, " 'E liked it all 1" 



CHAPTER XXXIII 



U. S. ANONYMOUS 



THE professional wit is the peculiar prodtict of 
America. It is true that there are paragraph- 
ists in all countries, but when one studies the 
newspapers of other countries, and sees the pitiful 
showing they make, one turns with a kind of subdued 
whoop of joy to the journals of the United States. 

And especially to the country journals. The vein of 
homely philosophy, of deep sanity, of cutting satire 
and of genuine wit flows in a constant stream from the 
pens of our unknown humorists of the daily and weddy 
press. And, as will be seen, it is not confined to any 
one locality. 

In a book that deals so largely with the makers 
of representative American humor, it would be an un- 
gracious omission to refuse recognition to those men 
who are doing so much not only to entertain but to 
enlighten the great American public. I have, therefore, 
ventured to make this chapter about the one who is 
perhaps the greatest humorist among us, namely, U. S. 
Anonymous. And, inasmuch as this chapter is to be 
''different," it may not be out pf place to say something 
about the making of epigrams — an art that goes 
back as far as we have any historical knowledge. 

3^ 



U. S. ANONYMOUS 325 

Cicero tells the story of a man who. called and asked 
for the mistress of the house. ''She is not at home^'' 
said the servant. 'Then/' said the man, "tell her I 
didn't call." This repartee, with a finished illustration, 
appeared some few years ago on the cover of Life. 
The humorous one or two line comment or epigram 
turns almost inevitably on the change of a word which 
shall produce a violent contrast. Beyond this, how- 
ever, the art of the humorist is shown in his selection 
of the right word in the wrong place, so to speak, so 
that it will bring out his point. For example, it has 
been a common saying that accidents will happen in the 
best regulated families. But Mr. Oliver Herford, tak- 
ing advantage not only of a kind of scandal that is 
quite broadly known, but also of the sound of oertain 
words, declares that "actresses will happen, etc." There 
we have the method. Your wit passes most of his 
waking hours in the search of a phrase or a saying in 
the hope that he can apply it to some condition. 
Oscar Wilde was, in Great Britain, perhaps the most 
notable example of the epigram maker. And yet he 
fell far short of many of our own unknown para- 
graphists because his phrases were based not so much 
on truth, as on any paradox that was clever without 
regard to its accuracy. One instance is where he said 
that he lived "in constant fear of not being misunder- 
stood." 

This, of course, is exceedingly clever. It almost 
makes one gasp. But it is not true. Indeed, Wilde's 
life was a passionate outcry against this sort of thing. 
His "Ballade of Reading Gaol" and his "Dc Pro* 
fundis" are both highly finished protests against this 



326 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS ' 

very epigram. He belied himself. To be smart was 
always more important than to be truthful. 

As a tribute, therefore, to Mr. U. S. Anonymous, I 
have selected from among many sources a few exam- 
ples of what seem to me to be the best of the wit pro- 
duced by these unknown knights of the quill. It is 
needless to say that I have made no attempt to be 
comprehensive. At this moment there are doubtless 
much better sayings floating about; but at least what 
follows is fairly representative of American para- 
graphic humor. 

For every woman who makes a fool out of a man 
there is another woman who makes a man out of a 
fool. — Lincoln Star. 

W. L. George, the English writer, says American 
children have no fun. Has he ever worn a top-hat 
down Main Street just after a big snowstorm? — LittU 
Rock Arkansas Gazette. 

The modern ladies should devote less energy to 
making permanent waves and more to making 
permanent wives. — Chicago Journal of Commerce. 

The best way to honor our dead soldiers is to 
remember the living. — Greenville (S. C.) Piedmont. 

We always thought the Irish wanted freedom until 
they began to insist on having a republic. — Columbia 
(S. C.) Record. 

In the heart of the New York financial district 
there is an animal hospital. — News Item. We didn't 
know New York's financial district had a heart— 
Little Rock Arkansas Gazette. 



U. S. ANONYMOUS 327 

In 1916 Germany planned on making America pay 
for the war. Well, we are. — Marquette Tribune. 

News Item : "Ford cars have taken another drop." 
Where'd they get it ? — Greenville (S. C.) Piedmont. 

Thrift is the art of buying a complexion to match 
a hat instead of buying a hat to match a complexion. 
— Sioux City Journal. 

Free Verse: The triumph of mind over meter. — 
Life. 

The world expects a financial revival. Billy Sunday 
should be hired to officiate, as he is about the best- 
known financial revivalist. — Manila Bulletin. 

Many a bride sweeps up the aisle of a church who 
has never had a broom in her hand. — Charleston 
Gazette. 

That Frenchman who says Americans can't ap- 
preciate tragedy should watch the grand stand when 
an outfielder drops an easy one. — Cleveland News. 

Another thing that somewhat cheers the ultimate 
consumer on his weary way is the reflection that the 
shoe men have to buy coal and vice-versa. — Columbus 
(Ohio) State Journal. 

That comet that was headed toward us took one 
good look and then kept on its way. — Charleston 
Gazette, 

The Woman's Democratic League asks that a woman 
be named for Controller. Most any experienced 
married woman is qualified for the job. — New York 
Morning Telegraph. 

We are burdened with excess prophets. — Washington 
Post. 



328 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

The present tendencies in some nations are in the 
direction of self-termination. — Asheville Times 

Our heart goes out to the soldier of Uruguay. The 
national anthem down there has seventy verses.— 

Dallas News, 

There are 6,000,000 families in the United States 
who own their own homes. This is an anti-Bolshevik 
argument in a nutshell. — Boston Shoe and Leather 
Reporter. 

If you will kindly buy your winter coal now, as the 
papers urge you to do, you may save some poor coal 
operator from the poorhouse. — Labor (Washington, 
D. C) 

The little red schoolhouse is better than the little- j 
read citizen. — Boston Herald. i 

I 

A news item says bagpipes are shown on a Roman 
coin of 68 a. d. History records that Nero killed him- 
self the same year. — Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 

What this country needs is less agitation about 
bobbed hair and more for bobbed government expenses. 
— Kansas City Star. 



CHAPTER XXXIV 

WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 

Hugh Wiley, Octavus Roy Cohen, H. C. Witwer 

THERE are a few writers of short stories who 
deal with tragic elements alone, who do not 
employ humor at all. But they are in the 
minority. 

The majority of short-story writers make use of 
humor. Many of them employ it constantly; others use 
it as they need it. When we consider the number of 
short-story writers, it is plain that in a brief chapter 
like this, it would be impossible to treat of all of them. 
I can take only a few, mention a few others, and indi- 
cate in a general way what it is that constitutes a hu- 
morous short story. 

As nine-tenths of all the writing done in America 
is on a commercial basis, it follows that the short-story 
market, on the whole the most prolific one, has been 
thoroughly plowed up. It is assumed for general 
commercial purposes, that any unintelligent person, 
who is willing to take any kind of a course offered in 
colleges — ^and it is getting to be a very poor college 
who doesn't have a professor of short stories— can 
write short stories, and thus raise a family, or possibly 

329 



330 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

two. It is a fact, however, that, for some reason, 
writers of short stories don't seem to raise large fam- 
ilies ; some of them indeed don't even believe in living 
regularly with the people they marry. 

The writing of short stories is, however, a g^eat and 
noble sport. And if the story is a humorous one, the 
chance of selling it is thereby increased. Ever sincf 
O. Henry wrote, the country has been flooded with 
short-story writers. Many of these, however, have 
refused to adopt the method for writing short stories 
adopted by O. Henry, namely, of first serving a tem 
in jail. They preferred to take the harder way of being 
instructed by some college professor, who "points with 
pride'' to the fact that "Miss Holloway Smythe, after 
taking only three lessons in our great system, was able 
to sell a story to the Saturday Evening Post and the 
Atlantic Monthly in the same week." 

But it would be churlish on my part to criticize the 
short-story schools. They have no doubt been usefu! 
in stimulating a lot of writers with real talent to write 
good short stories. Without these schools, these 
writers might not have written. That is all the schools 
have done for them. You cannot add a cubit to the 
stature of any writer; but if he himself has within 
him the capacity for growth in a particular direction. 
you may start him. We have produced, and wc are 
now producing, a whole group of standardized ston* 
writers. But, on the whole, this may be the only way 
to get the best results because, when a whole lot of 
people are working according to a method, among them 
there are geniuses who are certain to break away. 
What astonishes any one who will take the trouble to 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 331 

read our short stories to-day is their enormous clever- 
ness. Many of our best story writers have got the^ 
thing down so fine that it is actually painful to read 
their work, it so well done. Not a single effect is 
missing; one feels towards them the same confidence 
that one feels towards a skilful juggler in a vaudeville. 
It is quite apparent from the start, that, no matter how 
many balls are in the air at one time, every one of them 
will get back to the manipulator. One begins to long 
for the quaint old tales of yore, in which twerything 
was disorderly, and there were no clever sayings, no 
epigrams, nothing but people who moved about and 
said the most ordinary things. 

Let me advise any reader to make this experiment: 
Let him read, say, four or five short stories from our 
leading magazines in any one month, and then let him 
take up Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" or her 
''Sense and Sensibility" and read either one. The con- 
trast is indescribable. It becomes immediately apparent 
that, in the case of our periodical literature, the whole 
affair is strained and artificial, but at the same time, 
that it is incredibly more intricate, that it bears the same 
relation to Jane Austen's time that a motor car does 
to a sedan chair. 

On this account alone it should not necessarily be 
disparaged. But when I say "artificial" I mean this : 
it is almost wholly a matter of vocabulary. 

To "market" a short story in these days is largely 
a matter of vocabulary. For example, take the case 
of Harry Charles Witwer, one of our most prolific 
humorous short-story writers. When he first began 
writing stories, he had, he says himself, no success 



332 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

at all. Suddenly it was suggested to him that he write 
as he talked. His success was immediate. The reason 
was that he had been associating with a kind of people 
whose vocabulary, to put it mildly, was "unique." All 
he had to do was to sit down and reel off a short story 
in the language he knew and he could sell it at once. 
He has been accused of copying Ring Lardner. Very 
likely. But at the same time I doubt if any one could 
have the remarkable success that Mr. Witwer has won 
merely as a copier of another man's work. Mr. Lard- 
ner, who has much greater depth than Mr. Witwer, 
declares — as I have already stated — that he "learned 
how to listen." 

Now we may say this of Jane Austen, that she faith- 
fully reproduced the more or less dull talk of her own 
generation, and because she was a great artist, pre- 
served for us this generation. That is true. Why then, 
is not the same thing true of young men like Mr. 
Witwer who, going about among race-track touts and 
prize-fighting gentlemen, succeeded in translating this 
atmosphere for us? The difference of course lies in 
the profoundity of the one and the artificiality of the 
other. 

In estimating, therefore, our humorous writers and 
particularly our short-story writers, we must remem- 
ber that in many cases their success has depended upon 
the fact that they were able to seize the vocabulary of 
a particular group of people and translate it into money 
just because a whole body of readers like to hear how 
such people talk. Thus because the American people 
are, above all things, lovers of sports, sporting stories, 
stories concerning themselves with all kinds of ath- 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 333 

letics are uniformly popular. If any young man, with 
a moderate talent for writing, and a good memory, will 
go about for four or five years with any group of 
athletic people, and acquire their language and atmos- 
phere, and will then write short stories based on any 
one of the well-known models, I will guarantee him 
a respectable income for ten years or more, when he 
ought to be willing to retire. 

In spite of all I have written, however, the fact still 
remains that the story writer who must inevitably reap 
the greatest reward is the one who remains true to 
the principles of literary art. Thus we shall find that 
Booth Tarkington, take him all in all, is our best hu-< 
morous story writer, not alone because he has mastered 
the vocabulary of his characters, but because he has 
studied, he knows his characters, he gets under their 
skins : not always, but enough to show that he is an 
artist. Mr. Witwer, for example, takes the prize- 
fighter first and the human being afterwards. Booth 
Tarkington takes the boy as a boy, and afterwards 
as a human being. His vocabulary is true to nature, 
but so is his boy. With him, the plot is of no conse- 
quence, because it must inevitably grow out of his 
characters; and this is something that the tyro rarely 
learns. Atmosphere and character are the two guardian 
angels of the short story. And the method must be one 
of restraint. 

Now let us get back to Mr. Witwer for a few mo- 
ments. Fortunately there is preserved for us the story 
of how he made his entry into literature! The story 
appears in Success and is written by Thomas Thurs- 



334 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

day. With some omissions — for which I hope Mr. 
Thursday will forgive me — it is as follows : 



New Success, June, iQ2i 

Evidently H. C. Witwer and enthusiasm are twins. 
And Pep is his private secretary. He radiates energy, 
optimism, and pluck — 2l trinity that is guaranteed to 
land a man on top when properly directed, or on 
bottom when misdirected. 

When I called to interview Mr. Witwer on how 
he dared to climb to the high rungs without the aid of 
a college education, I found him busily engaged in 
putting the finishing touches to his latest short story, 
which will bring him $1800. He was pounding the 
periods, smashing the commas, and banging the ex- 
clamation points in such a manner that I marveled that 
the typewriter lasted more than a day without falling 
apart. 

During a pleasant hour, I succeeded in getting his 
own story. It is a story better than anything he has 
ever written. 

Born at Athens, Pennsylvania, March 11, 1890. 
Attended grammar school for several years and learned 
everything but grammar. He seemed to be bom with 
a natural antipathy toward anything; pertaining to 
correct English. But don't pity him! His ignorance 
of the proper correlation of Messrs. Verbs, Adjective 
& Co., has made him approximately $125,000. In 
other words, he has earned that sum by writing what 
has been termed "the most perfect specimen of slang 
ever propagated." And what Blanche Bates, the 
famous actress, says is "full of pep, fun, of sporting 
spirit, of the joy of youth.'* 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 335 

Perhaps a sample, taken from his Ed Harmon 
stories, may be of interest. By the way, Harmon, is 
his most noted character — ^and most profitable — having 
realized more than $60,000. Herewith a sample — 
Ed Harmon doing the writing: 

Well, yesterday mornin* I am up in my flat, Joe, 
engaged in the innocent pastime of playin* with my 
baby whilst Jeanne looks on with a lovin' smile on 
her equally lovin' face and a book by the name of "The 
Whole English Language in One Lesson," in her hand, 
when they's a ring at the bell. Our imported maid 
from Yonkers trips lightly over a rug into the room 
and exclaims that they's a guy outside by the name of 
Mac which wishes to see nothin* better than me. I 
give permission for him to come in. 

"Well, well," he says, lettin' forth a grin. "The 
happy family, hey ? How is everybody this mornin' ?" 

"What's the use of kickin'?" I says. "What d'ye 
think of my child?" 

"Fine!" says Mac. "What is it?" 

"What d'ye mean what is it?" I hollers. "It's a 
baby — ^think it was a giraffe?" 

"I mean is it a boy or a girl," says Mac. "Save that 
comedy for the club house." 

"It's a boy," I says. "Some kid, hey?" 

"I'll say he is !" says Mac, approachin' carefully like 
he was afraid my baby was gonna bite him or the like. 
"Looks just like his mother, too. Got them navy blue 
eyes, hey?" 

"Never mind tryin' to get in solid with the wife!" 
I says, whilst Jeanne presents him with a dazzlin' 
smile. "D'ye want to hold him a minute?" 

"Well — eh — let's start with something else," says 
Mac, backin' away. "He seems all right where he is, 
I'll let that part of it go for awhile, hey?" 



336 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

^'Cherie, say 'bon jour' to Monsieur Mac P' remarks 
Jeanne to my baby. 

"Ump — goof — ^waugh — ^gunko!" returns my baby 
with a sarcastical grin. 

"Don't mention it!" says Mac. "Say, that kid's a 
wonder! Talks as plain as I do. How old is it by 
now ?" 

Needless to say, such pummeling of the King's 
English did not escape the keen eyes of the language 
authorities. Far from it. Mr. Witwer has received 
countless letters from enraged grammarians informing 
him that he is a menace to the country, et cetera. 
With all of which, the modest author agrees. He 
invariably replies to the peeved professor that he started 
out to write literature but the editors claimed that his 
stories were entirely too weird. So he started to 
write illiterature. And went over big ! 

At the age of sixteen, he decided to conquer New 
York City, and landed therein with ten dollars in his 
coat pocket and a straw hat with a six-color ribbon 
surrounding the same. 

That night he rented a room on Forty-Second Street 
for $1.50 a week. 

After tramping around, young Witwer finally ob- 
tained a job that was both a delight and a gastronomic 
success. He was to be paid six dollars — count 'em ! — 
a week for serving unsuspecting folk with various 
kinds of sodas. He was happy; he was en route to 
success I 

Up to this point, it should be mentioned in passing, 
that he had had no thought of becoming a writer. 
This fact is stated for the benefit of the young and 
old who are constantly told that writers start off at 
infancy by composing sonnets on their bibs and employ- 
ing their nippled milk-bottles for fountain pens. 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 337 

That night, Witwer wrote home to his aunt and 
informed her that he had conquered the world and 
points west at one fell swoop. After which he decided 
to cut down expenses and become wealthy^ Hitherto, 
he had been squandering large sums for meals. So 
he decided to cook his own meals over his gas jet — 
which was strictly against the landlady's pet law. 

He made his first attempt . that evening when he 
arrived home with two eggs and a frying pan under 
his arm. Coaxing the gas to do its best, he dropped 
the eggs neatly into the pan and held it over the flame. 
A short while after — about forty minutes — ^the eggs 
were finished. "Finished" is the right word. On 
investigation the eggs showed that they had turned to 
either concrete or marble. He threw them out the 
window into the back yard. Which was poor 
diplomacy, indeed. For, be it known that friend land- 
lady was just emerging from the basement. Exit Mr. 
Witwer ! 

Let us now consider his advent into the story writing 
game — ^the game that has made him fame and fortune, 
friends and enemies : 

During the next few years, he tried his hand at every 
job that either man or mammal has ever devised. 
For instance, after being fired — ^he claims that he was 
never "discharged' ' — ^the word is too genteel! — from 
his soda-jerking position, he was once more on the 
high seas of vagrancy and youthful glory. Since then 
he has held — anywhere from two hours to two years 
— the following positions : bell-hop, hotel-clerk, private 
secretary, salesman, cub reporter, sport writer, editor, 
copy reader, press agent, collector, and about fifteen 
other positions that have escaped his memory. The 
collection of ideal positions are not listed in the order 
of merit or in the order that he tried them, but they 



338 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

serve to show that he has had a splendid background 
for the profession of letters. What a wonderful ex- 
perience for an embryonic writer! No college could 
possibly inculcate or approximate the things he observed 
and stored away in his subconscious mind. And it 
seems safe to remark that, had he not had such ex- 
periences, he would now — ^provided that his bent was 
authorship — be writing the pedantic, dull essays that 
no live person cares to read. 

Finally, he found himself. He had often wondered, 
during the years that he had skipped with gay abandon 
from job to job, what was his object in life, what was 
he created for? He was intelligent enough to under- 
stand that, before being a success at anything, he must 
first have a purpose, a plan of life, something to con- 
centrate on. 

He chanced to meet a newspaper reporter. And it 
was this reporter who initiated him into the newspaper 
game — ^known to most everybody except reporters 
themselves, as journalism. 

After having had his fair quota of news-gathering 
positions, he got the idea that he should be a successor 
to Shakespeare and write for the magazines. So he 
spent his spare time in concocting weird yams that were 
supposed to be salable. No sign of the humorist 
showed itself in a single line. Sad stuff, sob stuff, 
dreary stuff! He made the mistake of writing about 
Newport and **The 400" when he should have written 
about Times Square and "The 4,000,000." He also 
lacked a knowledge of how a story should be con- 
structed ; its technique, and the rest that makes a story 
valuable to the editors. In his enthusiastic ignorance, 
he wrote three short stories a week. Three stories 
a week were duly sent to the magazines. Three stories 
a week were duly returned with the editors' printed 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 339 

regrets. In fact, his yarns came back so quickly that 
he now believes that he must have mailed them attached 
to a rubber band. 

He sold his first story March 26, 191 5. He was paid 
five dollars! He raved as only a true author can 
when a deathless masterpiece is insulted in such a 
manner. Five dollars! For the moment, he thought 
seriously of quitting the game and angling for better 
fish. 

It was his wife who gave him the suggestion that 
set him upon the right road. She suggested that he 
stop trying to be literary and highbrow, and be him- 
self. To write of things he knew about. To his 
friends he was really funny, decidedly humorous. So 
Mrs. Witwer suggested that he write as he talked. 
He did. And he sold the first two stories — ^written in 
his inimitable slang — ^to a magazine that paid him real 
money. It was the beginning of real success, the start 
of his remarkable climb from $5 a story to more than 
$1800. To date, he has made approximately $125,000 
from his work, most of it within the past two years. 
He has also established a record for work that has x 
never been equaled in story writing. In a single year 
he wrote and sold eighty-five stories, averaging 9000 
words each! 

In conclusion, it might be well to mention that his 
path to success was not laid entirely with thornless 
roses. Far from it. Ill health has been his most con- 
stant companion. In fact, he has spent about three 
years in hospitals, sanitariums, and so forth. Chief 
trouble is nervous disorders. He has undergone two 
major operations, and was told, on each occasion, that 
he had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. Pleasant 
outlook ! 

Many a man would have complained about the luck 



340 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

of life, the ways of fate, and given up whatever 
ambitions he had, notwithstanding pep. 

If I had a mountain to move, I'd call upon H. C 
Witwer for assistance. 

This moving tale about Mr. Witwer reminds us 
somewhat — although in Mr. Witwer's case the cur- 
rent moves more swiftly — of the experience of Fannie 
Hurst, who passed some twelve years in New York 
striving for a mastery of style and action, until she 
finally made good. 

And she was helped by Bob Davis, that genial 
guardian angel of all young authors. But her story 
does not belong in this book, although without doubt 
she possesses humor — genuine humor because it con- 
sists of an accurate characterization of life, made with 
the painstaking art of the true artist. 

It is very difficult, indeed, to separate the purely 
humorous story from its fellows. For example, "The 
Outcasts of Poker Flat,'* by Bret Harte, undoubtedly 
contains humor, but it cannot be considered a humor- 
ous story. Mr. Alexander Jessup, in his extremely 
interesting collection of the **Best American Humorous 
Short Stories,'' put in it "The Angel of the Odd," by 
Edgar Allan Poe. Very likely. Yet I am not at all 
certain that Mark Twain's "Jumping Frog," which he 
also includes, can be considered strictly as a short 
story. It is undoubtedly a great piece of humor. Then 
again, I should be inclined to include more of Bunner 
than "Nice People." Naturally Mr. Jessup was limited 
or he would also have included more of O. Henry. He 
omits "The Lady or the Tiger." Mr. Jessup also omits 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 34X 

from his volume a lot of stories that, in his opinion, 
do not measure up to certain literary standards, and 
he is undoubtedly right in this. His volume, he says, 
does not aim to contain all of the best humorous stories, 
but on the whole, it is so well done, that, even if this 
book of mine does not make any claim to perfection, 
I am tempted, as a kind of historical aside, to give the 
list of stories in his volume; because, on the whole, 
they are probably the best humorous stories published 
up to the beginning of the war. The list is : 

"The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots," by 

George Pope Morris. 
"The Angel of the Odd," by Edgar Allan Poe. 
"The Schoolmaster's Progress," by Caroline M. S. 

Kirkland. 
"The Watkinson Evening," by Eliza Leslie. 
"Titbottom's Spectacles," by George William Curtis. 
"My Double and How He Undid Me)" by Edward 

Everett Hale. 
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," 

by Mark Twain. 
"Elder Brown's Blackslide," by Harry Stillwell 

Edwards. 
"The Hotel Experience 'of Mr. Pink Fluker," by Rich- 
ard Malcolm Johnson. 
"The Nice People," by Henry Cuyler Bunner. 
"The Buller-Podington Compact," by Frank Richard 

Stockton. 
"Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff," by Bret Harte. 
"The Duplicity of Hargreaves," by O. Henry. 
"Bargain Day at Tutt House," by George Randolph 

Chester. 
"A Call," by Grace MacGowan Cooke. 



342 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

**How the Widow Won the Deacon," by William James 

Lampton. 
"Gideon," by Wells Hastings. 

How we have progressed since this collection was 
made I 

Among the writers of stories that can be termed 
purely humorous are Hugh Wiley and Octavus Roy 
Cohen, both of whom are familiar to the great public 
that is read by the Saturday Evening Post: 

Mr. Wiley has kindly supplied me with the follow- 
ing data about himself: 

The Wildcat was born in Zanesville, Ohio, Febru- 
ary 26, 1884. Seven or eight years later he began to 
look around him. He discovered that he was in an 
interesting world. At this time he was living at Cas- 
cade Locks in the State of Oregon where his father 
was engaged on the construction of a canal around the 
rapids of the Columbia River. 

Engines and derricks, concrete mixers, locomotives 
and the varied phenomena of construction work lay 
before him, but his keenest impressions came from thi 
glittering brass on the surveying instruments used by 
the civil engineers. Before he left Cascade Lodes hi 
faced one of life's serious problems. The highway 
had branched. On one hand was an adventurous career 
with an Indian tribe that infested that part of the 
country. Indian life had an appeal. On the other 
hand was civilization and an engineer's career. 
Parental influence, and the glittering brass on the tran- 
sits and levels won the day. The Wildcat's Indian 
associates bade him farewell. Thereafter, for three or 
four years, he submitted to school in St. Louis and in 
Chester, Illinois. The school business did not bite very 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 343 

deeply, and when the Wildcat was fifteen years old, he 
achieved his freedom in a job on the Mississippi River 
which afforded him unlimited opportunity to play with 
surveying instruments. During this year, the Govern- 
ment of the United States bestowed upon young Huck 
Finn a monthly pay check amounting to thirty dollars. 
When he was about sixteen years old he returned to 
the family hearth in Chester and was again slammed 
into school without any serious results. He began a 
side-line of reading, apart from his school work. One 
thing led on to another. A copy of an East Aurora 
publication fell into his hands, and with an accomplice 
whose father owned two or three country newspapers, 
he began the publication of a rival magazine. Back of 
this activity was something of an ambition to show 
the local smart set that the sixteen-year-old river rat 
in their midst was not quite a complete social outcast. 
In butcher paper covers, the Pariah, which was the 
magazine's name, made its bow. This first greeting 
was a duplex affair. The bow served as salutation and 
farewell. The Pariah blew up, and with it, all of the 
Wildcat's hopes of ever joining Main Street's dancing 
classes, and the other gentle groups of the younger set 
about him. 

For the sum of two bits a small but gratifying flask 
of whisky could be obtained in any of the river saloons 
"under the hill" in Chester, and now and then, the 
Wildcat would shoot a quarter on the hootch. There 
followed a year or two of hard-boiled life on railroad 
surveys. A casual adventure in a conflict between 
two competitive railroads resulted in some wholesale 
killings, and with this background of blood to serve 
as a standard the Wildcat went into the hills of Mexico 
seeking silver and gold and adventure. He found some 
of each. He stayed in Mexico two years, and then 



344 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

jumped north into the Cobalt country in Canada on the 
trail of native silver. When he hit the district, it was 
fairly well crowded, so he continued his journey into 
the north. 

Somewhere along in 1906, he resolved that the busi- 
ness of working for another man had its serious 
defects. Thereafter, whenever he could he mixed up 
in construction work as a contractor. Now and then, 
when he would go broke, he would take a job long 
enough to get a stake and then, once more his own 
boss, he would bid on some work and land a contract 
that would pile up into big money or big trouble. 

Throughout this time all thoughts of the world of 
letters were swamped under the press of affairs and, 
from 1902 until 191 6, the bug of literature was inert 
in its chrysalis. Incidentally, not a lot has happened 
since then, but after a few successes and a few failures 
in the business of building bridges and railroads, the 
Wildcat, a little tired of the show, turned to mem- 
ories of his earlier days for relief from the stress of 
the present. 

In 1 916, some of these bridge contracts piled up into 
both money and trouble. A quiet hour of serious re- 
flection induced an attempt to escape from the tentacles 
of business. In his office, which was just then in 
Seattle, he sat down and wrote a story of a shipwrecked 
circus boat. Without any knowledge of technique or 
form he wrote the adventures of thuree old Mississippi 
River men combating the combined terrors of a flood 
and a menagerie that had drifted down upon their 
little floating domain. This story, which included the 
massacre of a young camel for eating purposes, was 
mailed to Scribner's Magazine in October, 1916. It 
made the riffle. 

The title of this first story was "On the Altar of 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 345 

Hunger," and, in the manuscript, the word "altar" was 
spelt "alter" which should have been enough to dis- 
courage any editor. The story was followed by two 
more Mississippi River stories and a story of Mexico, 
all of which went to Scribner's. 

In 191 7, seeking a more congenial environment, the 
Wildcat left the Northwest and established himself at 
San Francisco. Now the stories were coming too fast 
for one magazine and so, while Scribner^s were reading 
two of them, he sent a third to C oilier^ s. The story 
was accepted and was followed shortly after by another 
one. 

At this point, the affair with Germany broke in on 
the gentle business of arranging cheap words into 
expensive groups and, for more than two years, the 
Wildcat lived abroad with the i8th Engineers in the 
A. E. F. He continued to live. After the armistice 
was signed he wrote the first story of the Wildcat 
series and mailed it to the Saturday Evening Post 
from France. On the ship returning to the United 
States, the second story of the Wildcat series was '^ 
written. 

To the Wildcat, the whole thing seems to be an ac- 
cident. Sometimes he thinks that the fifteen years of 
running around were wasted, and then he knows that 
all of the old wild days serve as a background of raw 
material for his fiction factory. 

The one general difference between men and the 
other animals is that man can laugh. The Wildcat 
gets his greatest kick out of life when he discovers now 
and then that he has taught some member of the human 
family how to smile. 

And Mr. Cohen, who comes so close to Mr. Wiley 
in the same field, has this to say about himself : 



346 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

All About I 
By Octavus Roy Cohen 

Previous to my earthly advent on the twenty-sixth 
day of June, 1891, American literature had managed 
to make pretty fair headway — ^all things considered 
And I have not yet decided how much it has suffered 
under the impact of my breaking-in. 

Having been asked for my autobiography for in- 
clusion in a volume which is to be entitled "Great 
American Humorists" — or something like that — I have 
settled myself to the job with corrugated brow and a 
literary expression. Until the arrival of the urgent 
request I doubted my right of representation in such 
a collection. If the truth be known, I still doubt it. 
But Fve figured out that, once I do get in, the pub- 
lishers can't push me out without destroying the plates 
— and Tm not worth that expense. 

Matter of fact, my autobiography is about as pas- 
sionate as the eighth book of geometry. It will not 
prove particularly inspiring to other young men nor 
cause anguish to any beauteous damsel who might, had 
she so desired, have obtained me for a matrimonial 
partner. 

It was in Charleston, South Carolina, that I first 
emitted an infantile wail — ^which might be taken as a 
study in cause and effect. Existed in New York 
a while during my boyhood and then the family moved 
back to the South Carolina home. I wasn't educated. 
But I did attend prep school at the Porter Military 
Academy (Charleston) and took three-quarters of an 
engineering degree at Clemson College, South Caro- 
lina. 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 347 

Following a series of disagreements with the faculty 
relative to my desirability as a student, I departed sud- 
denly and completely from the zone of higher learning 
and went to shoveling coal in Alabama. Lovely 
existence — shoveling coal. Romance of the mining 
camps, and all that sort of thing. 

Then a series of misadventures, each embarked upon 
with the idea of securing the wherewithal for the next 
meal. I wound up as a newspaper reporter on the 
Birmingham (Ala.) Ledger, now happily defunct. 
That was in 1910. I continued in newspaper work — 
principally as a sport writer — in Charleston, South 
Carolina; various New Jersey papers . . . with a 
bit of a space assignment, now and then, from New 
York journals. 

Returned to the old homestead and entered my 
father's law office, where for many long and dreary 
months, I puzzled over legal phrases and legal forms. 
During that period I amused myself by hammering a 
typewriter. I judge that I amused a good many edi- 
tors, too. Finally, in the obvious effort to exterminate 
me by shock, one of them — Mr. Ray Long of the 
Blue Book, now of the Hearst organization — ^bought 
a story from me for which he paid the entirely too 
lavish price of $25. 

His acceptance did not have the hoped-for effect. I 
laid down a story barrage around his desk. Occasion- 
ally one of the things took, which accounted for my 
lack of wild enthusiasm when I passed the South Caro- 
lina bar examinations in 1912 and started in to 
practice. 

Thereafter it was a hot contest between the law and 
literature. The latter lost. I became a writer. 

In 191 3 I became engaged. In 1914 I married the 
girl to whom. I was engaged — Miss Inez Lopez of 



348 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Bessemer, Alabama. She is now the mother of one 
child, to wit: Octavus Roy Cohen, jtinior — age five, 
and persistently growing older. 

At the time of my marriage, I made a momentous 
decision. Coming to the conclusion that no hazard 
was quite so desperate as matrimony, I dropped my law 
practice and dedicated myself to a writing career. The 
first month after that marriage my total receipts from 
the literary field amounted to $15. I had just about 
decided that a mistake of judgment had been made 
when the stories — I had seventy of them in circulation 
— commenced to sell. 

Since then Tve been pretty fortunate. But it was 
hard sledding for awhile. 

For several years I tried to make up in story- 
quantity what I lacked in story-quality. And finally, 
back in 19 18, I conceived the idea of Actionizing the 
ultra-modern city negro of the South. 

I started something when I did that — ^particularly 
as that first attempt — and all that have followed it 
up to the date of this writing — sold to the Saturday 
Evening Post, And I suspect that, because the negro 
lends himself so readily to a htunorous portrayal, I 
have taken a sort of rank as a humorist. Certainly, 
if that doesn't explain the inclusion of this autobiog- 
raphy in this book, then nothing can. 

And so, for three years, I have devoted msrself to 
negro stories, to an occasional outside short story that 
demanded to be writ, and, by way of variety — detective 
novels. And plays of various sorts. 

I was also seduced one year into doing moving pic- 
tures. Other — ^and abler — writers have expressed 
themselves on this subject more aptly — smd profanely 
— than I shall ever succeed in doing. So I will not 
touch upon it save to say that I made several vitally 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 349 

important discoveries during my movie experience. 
For the benefit of the uninitiate I catalogue them here- 
with: 

1. The movie queen does not hate herself nor look 
down upon her art. 

2. The male star doubly ditto. 

3. A story is meant to be first bought, then butch- 
ered, then forgotten. 

4. A continuity writer is a better author than the 
person who wrote the original story — or play. If this 
statement is doubted — ^ask any continuity man. 

5. A scenario reader — ^meaning the person who re- 
jects good manuscripts and accepts poor ones — ^is 
neither as good an author as an author, nor so poor a 
one as a continuity man. 

6. All directors immigrated from Heaven — ^but will 
never visit their home town. 

My stage experience has been infinitely more pleas- 
ant. There was a melodrama, "The Crimson Alibi," 
written in collaboration with George Broadhurst, with 
a six months' Broadway run, and the present continu- 
ance of its — ^now — ^two-year period in England. Then 
"Come Seven,'* a negro comedy, which appeared to 
amuse Broadway for a while — ^not half so long a while 
as I wished. And two other plays, which have been 
more or less successful on road tryouts, and which are 
due in New York before long. 

And books : five of them to date, and my publishers 
have the manuscripts of three more on hand — ^the con- 
tracts stuffed snugly away in my box at the bank. 

To finish with all such tiresome data — my home is 
in Birmingham, Alabama. I am married to the same 
wife I wedded originally, and am called "Daddy** only 
by the single child hereinbefore mentioned. 

It being always necessary in such an article as this 



350 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

to chronicle one's •personal tastes — and weaknesses— 
I hasten to oblige. 

Regarding other writers, I rank Ring Lardner as the 
greatest humorist ever produced in this country. I 
think that George Fitch runs Lardner a close second — 
and I grab for ever3rthing publisher* under Stephen 
Leacock's name. 

I think the three best American novels I have read 
are Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street," Booth Tarking- 
ton's "The Turmoil" and Corra Harris's "Happily 
Married." 

I think Hugh Wiley's negro stories are wonderful, 
but his Chinese yarns are even better. . Wiley I regard 
as the master of the staccato style of story-telling. I'd 
write in the same style — but I can't get away with it. 

I am not unusually eccentric. I am the worst golfer 
in the world — and play oftener than most. I am also 
the worst saxophonist — ^but I love the instrument. 
There is, to me, nothing quite so enthralling as to 
harness oneself to a saxophone, stand before a full- 
length mirror, toot wildly and watch the little keys 
jump. There are so many of them — and they wiggle 
so unexpectedly. 

I despise New York — and prefer Birmingham to any 
other city in the country. And still maintain that I 
am -not eccentric. I have no temperament, save a 
chronic before-breakfast irritability. 

I would rather be Jack Dempsey than Rudyard 
Kipling, and would love to see my son become a cham- 
pion pugilist — nom de guerre: Killem Reillyl 

I'm crazy about football — and have carried a game 
knee for the past thirteen years as the result of my last 
scrimmage. 

If my wife were not a slender bnmette, I'd frankly 
confess a preference for plump and amorous bkmdes. 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 351 

When we consider more recent writers of short 
stories, we are confronted by the same difficulty of dis- 
criminating between those that are purely humorous 
and those tliat are not. The work of Thomas Beer, s 
of Ben Ames Williams, of Lawrence Perry, of Frances 
Noyes Hart, of Elizabeth Alexander Heerman, all 
notable story writers, is characterized by much humor, 
but it appears to me that, in each instance, the humor 
is subordinate to the other elements. Probably L. H. 
Robbins would be considered as a writer of humorous 
stories, pure and simple. He has contributed for many 
years to the Newark News, to Life and other papers, 
but his short humorous, stories have appeared mostly 
in Everybody's, and have deservedly won the com- 
mendation of the O. Henry Memorial Committee. 
His "Mr. Downey Sits Down" was included in their 
last volume of Prize stories of the year. 

Among the latest arrivals in the humorous short 
story field is Richard Connell, who, as the author of 
**The Sin of Monsieur Pettipon,'' has sprung into 
almost immediate fame. Mr. Connell has written nu- 
merous short stories for American and English mag- 
azines. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and 
is under thirty. His father was editor of a daily news- 
paper there and, at a tender age, he wrote police court 
and other news stories. While attending college he 
did some newspaper work and, after his graduation 
from Harvard in 1915, he was a reporter on a New 
York daily. Later, he wrote copy for an advertising 
agency. He enlisted in the army and was a soldier 
for two years in the 27th Division A. E. F. and saw 
active service in Belgium and France. He is now 



352 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

devoting his entire time to writing. He is 
and lives in New York in the winter, and in Connecticut 
in summer. In an article published in the New York 
Tribune, entitled "Taking Humor Seriously," Mr. 
Connell says about his own art : 



Taking Humor Seriously 
By Richard Connell 

"Sir," said an editor of Punch, "I'll have you under- 
stand that our jokes are not to be laughed at I" 

That Punch editor is typical of all makers of 
laughter from the first Neanderthalian man who sent 
his mate into guffaws by slipping on a discarded bit 
of dinosaur blubber, down the centuries to our own 
Dunnes, Adamses, Lardners and Benchleys. He is 
protesting against the attitude of the mass of mankind 
toward his art. From Aristophanes to Ade, humorists 
have desired to be taken seriously; that is to say, they 
have wished to be acknowledged by more than the few 
to be the men of intellect, penetration, weight and phi- 
losophy that in fact they are. 

Now, between the simple mechanics of slipping on a 
bit of blubber and the keen shafts of Mr. Dooley, are 
some millions of years of development. However, the 
humorist can't help realizing that the making of 
laughter to-day is still regarded, pretty generally, as 
a low form of human endeavor, at its best, less praise- 
worthy, let us say, than the composition of etudes for 
beginning pianists, or the manufacture of motor cycles 
or tooth paste, and incomparably lower, in the artistic 
scale, than the incubation of fifth rate soimets, 
beginning. 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 353 
"Oh, Death, upon thee oft I ponder deep." 

The humorist's protest against this false estimate 
of his art is more than self-justification. It is a pro- 
test against the larva state of our civilization, against 
the emotional moronism that appraises tears above 
laughter, and the dull ore of solemnity above the 

golden coin of wit. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

What is the state of the national humor to-day? 
Low. Higher than it was, perhaps, but still much too 
low. Who is to blame ? The makers of laughter them- 
selves are partly to blame for they have been ma- 
neuvered into being on the defensive about their art, 
and, indeed, I regret to say, sometimes a little ashamed 
of it. 

Take such an artist as Charlie Chaplin. How slow 
the dwellers on our artistic Parnassus have been to 
admit his genius. Isn't the real reason because he 
makes them laugh at themselves? Well, Charlie har- 
bors a desire to play Hamlet. I have no doubt he could 
do it. But why should he want to ? The reason seems 
to me to be this : He is the victim of the inferiority 
complex that is forced on all makers of laughter by an 
essentially dull and humorless age. Chaplin has a 
scientific attitude toward his work and a complete 
mastery of his medium. In brief, he is a genius. In 
Max Eastman's new book, "The Sense of Humor," 
Chaplin answers the question, "What do you do to 
people to make them laugh ?" as follows : 

''I tell them the plain truth of things. I bring home 
to them, by means of a shock, the sanity of a situation 
which they think is insane. When I walk up and slap 
a fine lady, for instance, because she gave me a con- 
temptuous look, it is really right! They won't admit 



354 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

it, but it's right, and that is why they laugh. I make 
them conscious of life. 'You think this is it, don t 
you ?' I say, 'Well, it isn't, but this is, see V And then 
they laugh." 

Tears are noble; laughter vulgar. This is the ac- 
cepted formula. Thus we find Mr. Henry B. Fuller, 
in a recent paper on Chicago novelists, giving columns 
to the latest piece of sordid '*tgg on the vest" realism, 
and dismissing two of our foremost humorists in this 
lofty manner, "Such popular character sketchers as 
George Ade and Peter Dunne." He has used the sec- 
ond most deadly epithet in the vocabulary of the 
contemporary critic, "popular." The most deadly, of 
course, is "humorist." Why he did not make a thor- 
ough job of it and utterly annihilate the creators of 
Dooley and of the "Fables in Slang" by calling them 
"popular humorists" is one of the mysteries of the 
critical brain which I am tmable to solve with mv 
microscope. 

Tears are noble ; laughter vulgar. And here we en- 
counter a paradox that must be shocking to such as 
Mr. Fuller. Man seems to prefer laughter to tears! 
Can it be that man is inherently vulgar? Or can 
it be that the formula is wrong and should be re- 
versed ? 

Everywhere is evidenced that man is eager to laugh, 
pathetically eager. Consider the things he will laugh 
at. I grant you he is often cheated by shoddy goods. 
and this may be a contributory cause why laughter is 
not more highly esteemed. There is nothing poorer 
than poor humor. And we have a deluge of it. 

Many men have gone into the business of manu- 
facturing what passes for humor, not because they 
have any equipment or any sense of the comic, but be- 
cause it pays. Of course, it pays. Humor is the most 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 355 

precious commodity in the world; diamonds are dirt 
beside it. One celebrated editor says, "I can get 
twenty, yes, forty good ^serious' stories for every good 
humorous story/' Man wants so earnestly to laugh 
that he will deal with bogus humorists. They can 
continue to exist only because of the low ebb in our 
taste. You know the men I mean. They are like the 
Irishman, who, when asked if he played the trombone 
by note or ear, replied, "Neither. By main strength." 
We have men who are humorists by main strength, the 
**go getters'' of literature. 

Now, poor humor deserves no more critical consid- 
eration than poor painting, music or poetry. But good 
humor deserves fully as much critical attention and 
appreciation as any of the arts. It does not get it. 
Why? 

Humor does not get its due because of the greatest 
fault in mankind. I mean fear. The simple truth is 
that most men, including the critics, are afraid to 
laugh. That is because they cannot laugh at other men 
without at the same time laughing at themselves. 

Man seeks to cover his nakedness, i. e., his true 
self, with various garments — dignity, self-importance, 
solemnity, sentimentality, hypocrisy. Along comes 
humor, a lightning flash of the truth. It strips off his 
dignity, tears aside his sentimentality, pierces his hy- 
pocrisy. Therefore, he fears humor. Humor is truth. 
If it is true that the truth shall make you free, it is 
equally true that the truth shall make you uncomfort- 
able. 

We need humorists. It is a shame to see the younger 
writers going astray. Let them remember that Berg- 
son has said, *'A humorist is a moralist disguised as ^ 
a scientist" and "a comedy is far more like real life 
than a drama is." Let them remember that laughter 



356 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

has concerned all men who have thought deeply about 
life. 

By way of encouraging the younger writers to de- 
velop into humorists, I should like to offer, as a 
glorious example, a sort of all-literature football team, 
composed exclusively of himiorists, and I hereby chal- 
lenge all champions of solemnity in literature to pro- 
duce a team that in weight, force, influence and scoring 
power could possibly stand up against my team* 

Right end — Aristophanes. 

Right tackle — Cervantes. 

Right guard — ^Juvenal. 

Center — Shakespeare. 

Left guard — Voltaire. 

Left tackle — Lucian. 

Left end — Swift. 

Quarterback — Moliere. 

Right halfback — Thackeray. 

Left halfback — Dickens. 

Fullback — Rabelais. 

Substitutes — Twain, Gogol, France and Shaw. 

Such a team would soon convince any other you can 
name that in the words of Professor James Harvey 
Robinson, "Humor must be taken seriously, but not 

solemnly." 

There is, in conclusion, just one thing more to be 
said about the humorous short story, and that is that 
it must deal with characters that are essentially comic 
in themselves, and are, therefore, limited. Thus wc 
have Mr. Wiley and Mr. Cohen depicting the ntg^ 
and Mr. Robbins depicting a character that is limited 
to a particular perspective, and we have Mr. Coandl 



WRITERS OF HUMOROUS STORIES 357 

creating out of a barber a series of advientures that 
might be easily classed as burlesque. 

All this, of course, is not the highest kind of humor. 
Much of it is very funny; but it is rough stuff. It is 
intended to be rough stuff. When we get to the finer 
shades of humor we find it invariably mixed with other 
elements. It is much like the veins of gold in quartz. 

"It is a truth universally acknowledged" begins Jane 
Austen in the opening chapter of "Pride and Preju- 
dice'' "that a single man in possession of a good for- 
tune must be in want of a wife.'' 

Mrs. Bennett asks Mr. Bennett if he has ever heard 
that Netherfield Park is to be let at last. He replies 
that he has not. 

"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just 
been here and she told me all about it." 

Mr. Bennett made no answer. 

"Do not you want to know who has taken it?" cried 
his wife impatiently. 

**You want to tell me, and I have no objection to 
hearing it." 

This is precisely, of course, just what Mrs. Bennett 
would have said and it is precisely what Mr. Bennett 
would have replied. Such delicate touches as Jane 
Austen delivers, the whole effect being to bring out 
into comic relief the realism of certain types, would be 
utterly lost on indiscriminative readers. It is pre- 
cisely in this delicacy of treatment, however, that the 
genuine humorist is revealed. As a matter of fact, I 
cannot quite see how there can really be such a thing 
as a sense of humor, considered by itself alone, apart 



358 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

from other faculties, and this term has always seemed 
to me absurd. Humor and satire are closely allied: 
they run into each other. Fidelity to nature, an almost 
acute s)rmpathy with the subject under consideration, 
a sensitiveness to violent contrast, and all this united 
with restraint and a feeling for words — these are some 
of the necessary qualities. 

And it is in the field of our short stories that we sec 
these qualities more in evidence to-day than in any other 
form of our literature. If it lacks the clarity of vision 
of a Jane Austen, and the enormous comprehensiveness 
of a Dickens, it often has the fine finish, and the fidelity 
to life that come only from those who are striving in 
their work and, tmder their limitations, to do their best 



CHAPTER XXXV 

THE COLUMNISTS 

Bert Lesion Taylor, Keith Preston, Ted Robinson, 
H. L Phillips, Roy K. Moulton 

GIVEN a set of morning papers," says F. P. A., 
"any child able to frame a coherent sentence and 
to rime in simple couplets, can begin to write 
a column. In a day or two, the public will begin to 
help him; then he is an editor and a conductor, and 
the public does most of his work for him. Thus his 
task is the pleasantest of all jobs in a newspaper office 
and out of it." 

This quotation (I trust without protest) is taken 
from a very pleasant little book entitled "The Gentle 
Art of Columning" by Charles L. Edson. The reader 
is referred to this book for specific information. I 
am not going consciously to entrench upon Mr. Edson's 
playground, and, for a long time, I have thought that 
there should be more confraternity among authors any- 
way. This book itself, as the reader will perceive if 
he has not already done so, is mostly written by the 
people themselves who are in it. All the other thoughts 
in it have also been provided by others, in many cases 
without due credit, because I cannot remember the 
authors. 

I have purposely avoided reading any more of Mr. 
Edson's book than the quotation I have given to start 

359 



36o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

this chapter, for fear that, even unconsciously^ I migb 
appropriate his ideas. Some of his headings, however, 
are suggestive. One of them is "The Punning Pan- 
graph," another "Contribs" and still another, "Comic 
Verse." I shall try to avoid therefore, anything but ^ 
the slightest reference to these intimate details. Mr. I 
Edson, however, writes entertainingly in an article j 
which he published later in the New York Tribune, and 
which was reprinted from Brentano's "Book Chat" : 

"No one really can tell how hunches come," wrote 
a reviewer discussing the chapter under that heading 
in "The Gentle Art of Columning." In that chapter 
I had said that every paragrapher has a definite system 
of wooing the spark of inspiration, just as every o!d 
barn has a system of lightning rods to pull the electric 
flashes down out of the clouds. 

I then briefly stated the systems used by F. P. A. 

Christopher Morley and Don Marquis. A more 

detailed account is here given of the systematic search 

for hunches. Jim Smiley, paragrapher of the Kansas 

City News, an evening paper, sits down at his desk 

and begins reading the Morning Sheet. He is looking 

for hunches. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

After Jim had red penciled all the promising news 
stories, he took his writing pad and wrote a brief 
summary of the stories, thus : 

Von Moltke has been dropped from the German 
staff. 

The French army has ceased retreating and is ad- 
vancing. 

French soldiers wear red pants. Etc. 

He had a score of such items all written on one 
sheet of paper. Then he sat down to pump jokes oat 



THE COLUMNISTS 361 

of them. He wrinkled his brow, stared fixedly at the 
twenty items and said to himself : "Come on, Concen- 
tration, come on." Within two minutes he was in a 
trance and the ideas began hopping about in his brain 
like rabbits jumping in and out of hedgerows. Von 
Moltke had quit. "The Kaiser's backers are quitting 
him Von by Von." The French army in red pants 
suddenly turns with the first frost of autumn and drives 
the olive-colored Germans back. "The Germans 
camouflaged themselves in green and had all the best 
of it until frost turned the forests red. And then the 
green uniforms were easy marks for the French." And 
so it went with every one of Jim's twenty news items. 
Concentration yielded a wheeze out of every one of 

them. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Such is the system of the paragrapher. These are 
the fruits of his seeking after inspiration. The ideas 
that he selects are governed by his personality. One 
man is fond of parody and jeers. His hunches will 
come when he reads a good thing and writes a parody 
of it, or when he reads a feeble thing and writes a 
"hot roast" or jeer. This is F. P. A.'s column. Don "^ 
Marquis is fond of satire, burlesque and epigram. 
Morley likes puns. But they all work by blue print 
and by plan. With their chart before them they daily 
sit at their desk and, offering a prayer to the god of 
concentration, they go into the silences. 

The fashion of having a column in a newspaper 
written by a humorist, or at least a pleasant person (all 
humorists are not pleasant) was, for aught I know, 
started by Ben Franklin, who seems to have started 
more things in this country than any other individual, 
or any group of people that could be named — ^including 



362 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

a post office, good roads, stoves, electricity kite flying 
and whistling. Such, however, is the temper of the 
American people that columns of comment in papers 
would have started spontaneously ever3rwhere sometime 
or other if, for any reason, their coming had been 
delayed. There have always been local humorists on 
our country papers. Many of our big humorists 
started in that way. Years ago 'Gene Field's column 
in the Chicago News was famous. Robert J. Burdette 
had one in the Burlington Hawkeye and later in the 
Brooklyn Eagle. Now every considerable paper has 
one. They are all pretty good as the world goes. I 
think that probably Bert Leston Taylor and F. P. 
Adams have done more to make the average column 
better than any others. Richard Atwater (RIQ) of 
the Chicago Post should not be overlooked — one of the 
most promising writers we have. Although Bert 
Leston Taylor has passed away from us, I personally 
cannot feel that he has gone, and I shall assume that 
he has not gone, but is still here. The real fact is 
that he is still here, because his work and influence 
keep on. When preparing this book, in 1921, I wrote 
to him in February of that year, and, imder date of 
February 26, 1921, I received the following letter 
from him. 

My dear Masson: 

Perhaps you can get what you want out of 
the enclosed sketches. 

As for my "best book" I have always had a sneaking 
fondness for "The Well in the Wood," written to 
entertain a six-year-old daughter. It was published by 
Bobbs-Merrill, and must now be out of print. I am 
getting out a couple of small volumes for next Christ- 
mas time. 



THE COLUMNISTS 363 

I feel that I ought to remind you that I am not a 

humorist, nor ever claimed to be. 

With all good wishes, 

Sincerely, 

B. L. Taylor. 

P. S. In the American Magazine for last October 
is an article on "The Colyum/' 

A few weeks later (March 20) Bert Leston Taylor 
passed away. Now the material that he enclosed was 
a short autobiography of himself that was published 
in his column, **A Line o' Typt or Two," in the 
Chicago Tribune in August, 19 19. I wish it might 
be possible for me to reproduce it all here, but at any 
rate, I must quote from it. Mr. Taylor is telling about 
his visit to his birthplace, Goshen Hill, where his father 
was born, and his father before him. Then he himself 
quotes from Anatole France : 

People are sometimes blamed for speaking of them- 
selves. Yet it is the subject that they treat of best. 
They are interested in it themselves, and they often 
make us share in that interest. There are, I know, 
wearisome confidences, but the bores who plague us 
by telling us their own histories completely overpower 
us when they relate those of other people. A writer 
is rarely so well inspired as when he talks about him- 
self." 

Mr. Taylor now goes on: 

*The home of my parents was really New York 
City, whither I was removed a few weeks after my 
introduction to the world." 



364 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

He declares that his childhood was very dnll and 
that his school days were exceedingly commonplace. 

My most notable feat of reporting was done for 
the Chicago Journal, but I have never said much about 
it I was told off to keep account of a libel suit tha: 
involved two prominent citizens, and I visited the coun- 
house faithfully for ten days or more. The trial ended 
abruptly in favor of the defendant, and I met the 
plaintiff coming away from the courthouse. I tarried 
to discuss with him the miscarriage of justice, and 
completely forgot my newspaper, which went to press 
with no word of the trial's end. The managing editor 
was so annoyed by my dereliction that he took me om 
of the local department for a fortnight, and set me 
to writing editorials. A few weeks afterwards "The 
Colyum" was born. But that — as we used to say before 
the phrase was worn to ribbons — ^is another story. 

The many tributes paid to the memory of Bert 
Leston Taylor would, in themselves, make a large \o\- 
ume. I am tempted to quote however from one of 
them, written by Al Weeks, who wrote of him : 

For nearly twenty years, with a few interruptions. I 
Bert Leston Taylor had been a conductor of a depart- 
ment of wit, wisdom and nonsense entitled "A Line-o- 
Type or Two." Making the Line came to be one 
of the most popular of indoor sports, not only ir. 
Chicago, not only in Illinois, not only in the Middle 
West, but all over the country, with now and then a 
devotee in Europe and Asia. 

B. L. T. may be considered the first of the column- 
ists, for although Eugene Field and Bill Nye and Mark 



THE COLUMNISTS 365 

Twain preceded him with newspaper niches, Taylor 
set the style, so to speak, for such men as Franklin 
P. Adams (F. P. A. of the New York World), Don 
Marquis of the Sun, Christopher Morley of iht Post 
and H. I. Phillips of the Globe, and for Richard Henry 
Little, who succeeded him on the Chicago Tribune. 

It was Taylor who first gathered to him a hard- 
working group of assistants whose remuneration was 
nil but whose industry was prodigious — ^the band of 
contribs who labored for him. It was Taylor who 
first abbreviated old-fashioned to o. f., and well-known 
to w. k. It was Taylor who gave the traveling sales- 
men a forum with his reports from what he called the 
gadders. It was Taylor who founded a mausoleum 
for conventional phrases, for bromides, which he 
termed so felicitously the "Cannery." It was Taylor 
who first featured striking examples of nomenclature 
and filed them in the Academy of Immortals, over 
which the deathless Jet Wimp presided. 

Nor was Taylor's column always given over to 
levity alone. Now and then he struck out a paragraph 
that was rich in philosophy and observation. He was 
ever eager to praise the best in literature and in music, 
and he was an ardent golfer. 

The first posthumously published volume, "A Penny 
Whistle,'' was issued last year. Now comes a collection 
of bits from the column entitled, "The So-Called 
Human Race," and it is delicious reading. Just to 
show the variety of his mind and the antic quality of 
his humor, read these, chosen at random from the new 
book: 

"Since prohibition came in," says the Onion King, 
"Americans have taken to eating onions." As Lincoln 
prophesied, this nation is having a new breath of 
freedom. 



366 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

There are many definitions of optimist and pessimist 
As good as another is one that the Hetman of the 
Boul Mich Cossacks is fond of quoting : "An optimist 
is a man who sees a great Ught where there is none 
A pessimist is a man who comes along and blows out 
the light." 

The Wetmore Shop, on Belmont Avenue, advertises 
''Everything for the baby/' 

One lamps by the advertisement that the Fokincs 
are to dance Beethoven's "Moonshine Sonata." The 
hootch-kootch, as it were. 

The manufacturer of a certain automobile advertises 
that his vehicle "will hold five ordinary people." And, 
as a matter of fact, it usually does. 

Spring Has Come 

The trees were rocked by April's blast; 

A frozen robin fell. 
And twittered, as he breathed his last, 

"Lykelle, lykelle, lykeUe." 



The headline, "U. S. to Seize Wet Doctors/' has 
led many readers to wonder whether the Govemmcnt 
will get after the nurses next. 

"For sale — 1920 Mormon Chummy." — Minneapolis 
Tribune, Five-passenger, at least. 

A Kenwood pastor has resigned because some mem- 
bers of his flock thought him too broad. The others, 
we venture, thought him too long. 

And now let me give space to some of our lead- 
ing columnists who have in each instance kindly sup- 
plied their own text. Within my limits it would be 



THE COLUMNISTS 367 

quite impossible to publish them all. The three lead- 
ers, whether by common consent or by critics' dictum, 
appear to be Don Marquis, F. P. A. and Christopher 
Morley, all writing in New York. These three writers 
have all been treated elsewhere in this volume. It 
should be noted, however, that their great reputations 
have been gained quite largely for other qualities quite 
apart from their columns. All are authors on their 
own account. 

KEITH PRESTON 

(Chicago News) 

I was born September 29, 1884, in Chicago, within 
easy walking distance of the Union Stockyards. My 
formal education was in local schools, beginning with 
Appleton's first reader, and ending with an oral exam- 
ination for the Doctorate in Classics at the University 
of Chicago. From this experience I retain a deep 
admiration for the Greek and Latin masters, and, in 
English literature, a taste for eighteenth century prose 
and the poetry of Milton and Marlowe. 

Outside academic walls, I came under various in- 
fluences, some of which I now recognize as of lasting 
importance. A book that influenced my child mind 
was 'Torging His Chains,*' by George Bidwell, the 
Bank of England robber. As a youth, I attended the 
Methodist church, and sat under the preaching of Dr. 
Frank Crane, whose homilies made an indelible im- 
pression, which nothing that either of us has been able 
to do since could entirely eradicate. While teaching at 
the University of Indiana, I met some of the best people 
on earth at the local Elks' lodge, and got my grounding 
in the works of the Indiana literary school. A year's 



368 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

teaching experience at Princeton under Dean Andrew 
West taught me the intellectual importance of luxuri- 
ous surroundings. The genial influences of the Prince- 
ton and Nassau Inn bars deserve passing mention. 
From the lush pasturage of Princeton I passed to the 
Northwestern University at Evanston, where such lax 
tendencies as the Indiana Elk and the Princeton Tiger 
had encouraged have been gradually corrected. 

My entry into journalism was not premeditated. I 
began writing as one of the moths that fluttered round 
the brilliant light that Bert Leston Taylor kept burning 
in "Line o' Type" column in the Chicago Tribune. 
Under his discerning eye, I learned to distinguish vers 
libre from poetry, good puns from bad, and how to 
detect plain and fancy piffle. The next step was trans- 
planting to a corner of the Wednesday hock page ot 
the Chicago Daily News, where I was encouraged to 
set up shop as a critic of modem literature, a full- 
fledged critic who had read nothing much since Alex- 
ander Pope ! To my surprise and delight I discovered 
matter for laughter, matter for tears, and even stuff 
for serious admirations in the work of living writers. 
Mingling the methods of the laughing and weeping 
philosophers with an occasional whole souled bhtrb in 
the best modem style, I have battened for four yean 
on the creative writers of the day. Lately, I have been 
presented with a daily coltimn in which to vent such 
puns and doggerel as cannot plausibly be strung upon 
literary leaders. 

The result is a professor turned columnist, rueful 
at times over the lost teaching which he found good 
fun, but enjoying the give-and-take of journalism. 
Like any old dog that has learned new tricks, he envies 
the technique of columnists bred from cubs to the 
chase. He continues a humble student of the art of 



THE COLUMNISTS 369 

columning. As a critic, of course, it is a different 
story, for here the professorial ego flourishes unchecked 
over defenseless poets, novelists, and publishers. 



TED ROBINSON 

(Cleveland Plain Dealer) 

Edwin Meade Robinson ("Ted Robinson") was 
bom in Lima, Indiana, in 1879, He was educated at 
Howe School and Wabash College, receiving his de- 
gree from the latter institution in igoo. After a y«ar 
of teaching English in the Attica High School, he 
entered the newspaper business in Indianapolis. He 
was editorial writer on the Indianapolis Sentinel, and 
later on the Indianapolis Journal; on each paper he also 
conducted a weekly column of verse, humorous and 
serious. In 1904, he went to the Cleveland Leader, 
vdiere he conducted a column called "J^st By the Way'' 
for six years. From the Leader he went to the PloMir 
Dealer, where he has conducted *Thc Philosopher of 
Folly" ever since. 

For particulars concerning his method of column 
conducting, see Everybody's Magoisine for March,, 
1920 ; article, "The Columnists' Confessional." 

Robinson was secretary-treasurer of the American 
Press Humorists' Association in 191 3-14 and Presi- 
dent in 1914-15. His book of more or less serious 
verse, **Mhere Melodies," was published by David 
McKay, Philadelphia, 1918. A book of humorous 
verse, "Piping and Panning," by Harcourt, Brace & 
Co., New York, 1920. A novel, "Raw Material,^' is 
in course of preparation by The Macmillan Company. 
Married. One son. 



370 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

H. I. PHILLIPS 

(New York Globe) 

I was bom in New Haven, Connecticut, November 
26, 1888, schooled there; took a job on the New Haven 
Register with the idea of earning enough to go to 
Yale ; fell hard for the newspaper game and never got 
up again. I was made managing editor of that paper 
when I was twenty-three and thought myself a big^ 
man than Ochs of the Times. Held that job some six 
years, vainly trying to get an increase over the orig- 
inal M. E. salary; then came to New York and went 
to work on the Tribune under a managing editor by 
the name of Pope or something like that. I remember 
he munched peanuts all the time and held his hands 
clasped in back of his head; also that he told his as- 
sistant to tell his assistant's assistant that I would make 
an excellent stevedore. Somehow, I never could get 
down to working there : I was always so fascinated by 
watching Pope eat peanuts. My job was copy-reading, 
by the way. 

I told Pope he'd have to stop eating peanuts or I'd 
have to stop working on the Trib. He kept on with 
the peanuts. Then I came to the Globe, where George 
T. Hughes put me to work as a make-up man. One 
day, in 191 9, I wrote a column and left it on the desk 
of Hughes. He used it. It has been running c\-cr 
since and is now syndicated by the Associated News- 
papers. Now I eat peanuts myself and am quite codcy 
about it. My folks are quite upset about me. Father 
wanted me to be a sign painter, and mother is afraid 
writing is hard on my head. My readers think there 
is something in what they both have in mind. 



THE COLUMNISTS 371 

ROY K. MOULTON 

(New York Evening Mail) 

When I was a very young sap, back in the old home 
town, St. Joseph, Michigan, my father conducted a 
hardware store. It is one of the pleasant privileges of 
a hardware man's life in a small town, to polish stoves. 
My father did not avail himself of this great blessing 
but passed it on to me, and for some years, to all intents 
and purposes I belonged to the Ethiopian race. 

I finally tired of masquerading as a negro minstrel^ 
although I believe that, while I did masquerade as such, 
I developed a sort of sense of humor. I could not 
look at myself in the glass without smiling. I suddenly 
decided to get into the newspaper business, and after 
scrubbing for several weeks, I applied at the home paper 
and got a job, and the honorarium as I remember now 
was $6 a week. I worked at this for about a year, 
when I had saved up $18 out of my salary and I went 
to Detroit, where I went to work for the Detroit Free 
Press. It was on the Free Press that I wrote my first 
column. 

That was in 1900, and so I have been writing columns 
steadily for 21 years and have not amassed great 
wealth. I was discharged from the Free Press 
four times, and finally I got very angry and quit. I 
went to the Grand Rapids Press, where I wrote a 
column for ten years. It was there that I began syn- 
dicating my work. I went from there to the Grand 
Rapids Nejvs for a short spell, when I came to New 
York and immediately went to work for the Evening 
Mail, succeeding Franklin P. Adams, when the latter 
went to the Tribune, or shortly afterward. 



yj2 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

I shall always believe that the stove-polishing busi- 
ness made a sort of humorist out of me, although I 
could never convince my father that I could not have 
done much better in the stove profession. 

I have contributed to many magazines, and have, for 
eight years, contributed a line of special articles to the 
Hearst newspapers which have been given wide cir- 
culation. My most successful work with these papers 
has been a special article weekly called **Quincy 
Todd," being the adventures of a red-blooded Ameri- 
can. 

There is nothing distinctive to any extent in column 
writing. One takes the news as it comes and com- 
ments on it and then he spends the rest of the dav 
reading contributions which, in my case, often run up 
to one hundred a day. I have studc to column writing 
all these years for the reason that I don't know how 
to do anything else, and then, I have a sort of secret 
love for the profession. 

I have always told my 3roung son that if he ever 
adopted the writing profession I would shoot him 
before he got a job, but probably I would not, at 
that. 

I have been asked what influence guided me most in 
my profession. I don't know. Perhaps the fact that 
when one gets printers' ink on his fingers he nev-er 
gets it off. Perhaps it was the stove blacking. Even 
now, occasionally, I find a bit of it on me. I have also 
been asked to give a sample of my best work. It has 
not yet been written. 

I expect to spend my declining years writing jokes 
for dear old Dr. Hostetter's Almanac which, to say the 
least, is a pleasant outlook. That is all I know about 
myself except that I am forty years old» still have a 
full head of hair, and wear a belt, but no suspenders. 



THE COLUMNISTS 373 

I like to spend my summers in New York and ride in 
the subway. If that does not indicate, at least, a slight 
sense of humor, I will get up and give my seat to some- 
body else. 



CHAPTER XXXVI 



THE YOUNGER SET 



Heywood Broun, Lawton Mackall, Clarence Day, Jr., 

Don Herold, George Chappell, Donald, 

Ogden Stewart, and Others 

SPEAKING from the commercial standpoint 
alone (and in this benighted country why should 
any one engaged in literary exploitation expect 
to speak from any other standpoint?) the business of 
raising incipient humorists is fraught with tragedy. 
The incubator for new humorists is the university. 
In every principal college, and in many of the minor 
ones, and also among the private and high schools, 
there is likely to be a humorous paper. The Harvard 
Lampoon, the Yale Record, the Princeton Tiger, arc 
familiar names to most readers. Indeed, out of Har- 
vard alone, have come a large proportion of our pres- 
ent day young humorists. 

Much of this college humor is better than the humor 
published in regular comic weeklies and periodicals. 
It is fresh (sometimes altogether too fresh) and often 
has a spontaneity denied to maturity. Much of it is 
extraordinarily bright. Thus, through all of these 
papers, any talent likely to be lying around loose in 

374 



THE YOUNGER SET 375 

any college or school is at once preempted, and made 
to serve. And, when these boys leave college, if they 
have made good on their papers, they immediately seek 
a market for their wares. The tragedy lies in the 
fact that there is practically no market. The column- 
ists pay nothing. Humorous stories, running up to 
seven or eight thousand words, if good, are eagerly 
grabbed up by the magazines. But your young humor- 
ist is unable to make this grade. He therefore depends 
upon getting into Life or Judge or Vanity Fair, or 
else drags out his vaulting ambition until it leads him 
into the bond business, or in fact, an5rwhere he can 
make a living. 

Another embarrassment about the young humorist 
is that, if he does make good, he is quite likely to make 
good in some other way than as a humorist pure and- 
simple. For instance, there is Mr. Marc Connelly, a 
delightful writer of humor, who has succeeded in 
becoming a successful writer of plays, and, associated 
with him, is Mr. George Kaufman. Both of these 
young men have extraordinary talents, demonstrated, 
for example, in a play like "Dulcy." Their talents have 
gone out in that direction, doubtless to the envy of 
many of their young compatriots — for it is needless 
to state that to be the author of a successful play is 
the high water mark of any young writer's ambition. 

The gap between the humorous and serious writer 
is closing up more and more. There is much humor 
in the work of Sherwood Anderson, yet it is not as a 
humorist that he is known, but as a new American 
writer of distinction and originality. The same thing 
is true, perhaps, however, from another standpoint in 



376 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

the work of He^-wood Broun. Mr. Broun has a tnx 
sense of humor. For one thing, he never loses his 
temper, a necessity for any humorist. But his main 
abilities lie in the direction, not of straight literary 
criticism, but of something beside. I should say that 
Mr. Broun was always in danger of becoming a critic, 
and always being saved by his sense of humor. It re- 
quires a great deal of sanity not to be a critic when 
one is under the ban of being one. Mr. Broun is older 
than some of the other members of this younger set. 
He was, in fact, born in 1888, but he has so far sur- 
vived being what he is commonly supposed to be by 
suburban societies and woman's clubs, not from anv 
special direction of his own, but because he didn't 
know how to be. Thus far, he seems to have been 
incapable of being ruined by any of his own defects. 
For example, he is undoubtedly a very careless writer, 
but his instincts are so admirable^ and his capacities 
are so enormous, that this never seems to matter, the 
main point being that he is interesting. He has a 
kind of modesty that acts as a gyroscope, even when he 
is leaning over towards himself and his son, who fig- 
ures quite largely as Heywood 3rd — all of which is 
admirable, but not to be copied by any one else. Mr. 
Broun is a Harvard man. He was formerly on the 
Tribune, but is now on the World. He writes about 
books and the drama, and other things. He exercises 
quite a marked iniluence over first books and, as a rule, 
does it very well and with great justice and clarity, 
with an astonishing scent for the good thing by the 
new author. He appears to be utterly without any 
rancor. His first book, "Seeing Things at Night/' is 



THE YOUNGER SET 377 

much more than a bode of book reviews. It is charm- 
ing in places. So is his second, "Pieces of Hate." 

By a singular coincidence, for which I am unable to 
account, Lawton Mackall was also born in 1888. I 
was much more fortunate with him than with Mn 
Broun, who promised but didn't perform for me, and 
I have been obliged to write this notice of Broun 
myself — something that I shrink froni doing in such an 
admirable affiair as this volume, which is supposed to 
be done by all those that are in it. However, here i$ 
what Mr. Mackall says about himself : 

LAWTON MACKALL 

Early I learned to take humor seriously. When I 
was about seven years old (bom 1888), the only diild 
in the household of my grandfather, General A. R. 
Lawton, I used to ^)ell out diUgently all the jokes in 
each week's issue of Life, but my particular treasure 
was an old copy of Joe Miller's "Joke Book." I knew 
it was humorous, because it was called a joke book. 
The fact that I could understand few of these jokes 
by no means lessened by admiration of them. I 
felt that they were benevolently designed for 
the entertainment of mankind, so I memorized 
them and repeated them on all occasions, as a 
sacred duty. It was my earnest social contribution. 
For example, one evening at dinner when there 
were guests at table, in a pause in the conversa* 
tion, I piped up with : "I read a joke in Life to-day. 
It said, There was a drunken man walking akmg the 
street and he said to a policeman, "Officer — hie — ^wiU 
you please tell me — ^hic — where the other side of the 
street is ?" And the policeman said, "Right over there, 



378 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

sin" And the drunken man said, "Hie — ^I was over 
there — ^hic — ^and they told me it was over here." 

"What do those *hics' mean?" queried my grand- 
father with a twinkle in his eye. 

"I don't know," I answered stanchly. "But they're 
in the joke." 

Since which time the humor I have been permitted 
to dispense has been, if not funny, at least uncom- 
promisingly conscientious. 

In my undergraduate years at Yale I tried vainly 
to "make" the Record board. By the end of my senior 
year I had scored exactly two jokes. Then the great 
change occurred. As a graduate student I lodged not 
on the campus, but in a boarding house five blocks 
away, where there happened to dwell also a girl of 
scrumptious appearance. To her I introduced the then 
chairman of the Record Board, and forthwith I became 
a steadily successful contributor to the magazine. The 
acceptance of my manuscripts was not uninfluenced by 
the fact that they were usually handed to him at the 
same time with notes of a possibly intimate nature 
from the young lady. Now they have two boys, two 
girls — and a Ford. The gold Owl Charm which I was 
awarded for my distinguished service is now worn by 
my wife. 

A woman's smile, which confers glory upon aspiring 
manhood, was quiet in comparison with the contagious 
laughter of a certain young lady at the Century Com- 
pany where I was an office boy. The solemn industry 
with which I carried refilled inkstands, and later served 
as clerical assistant to female taskmasters (long and 
privileged in service) seemed to cause her much amuse- 
ment. When, a year afterward — I was then toiling 
with a music publisher — I appeared in the office with 
a manuscript for the *'In Lighter Vein" department. 



THE YOUNGER SET 379 

her laugh won the day. Frank Crowninshield, at that 
time one of the editors, to whom I handed the manu- 
script, read it aloud dubiously. My queen of cachinna- 
tion made audibly merry, so that Crowninshield asked 
suspiciously "Is this a conspiracy?" But he accepted 
the manuscript and published it in the Christmas 
Century. It was the thing called "Those Symphony 
Concert Programs." 

When it appeared in print Oliver Herford and 
Stephen Leacock made kind comments on it, which so 
reassured Crowninshield that he asked me for more. 

This encouragement, coupled with the loss of my 
job with the music publisher, made me a professing 
professional humorist. Little did I dream that, before 
long, anxiety over household and doctors' bills would 
make me a humorous editor ; for two years I was 
managing editor of Judge. During the war I organ- 
ized and conducted a department in that magazine 
devoted to amateur contributions, text and pictures, 
from men in all branches of the service. That was 
really a lot of fun. 

My total published work in book form consists of 
a tome less than half an inch thick entitled "Scrambled 
Eggs," written entirely in fowl language. 

My one claim to distinction is in the fact that I 
have never lost a collar button. My back collar button 
I have worn for twenty-five years, and my front one 
for twenty-one. Explanatory note: My early cape- 
collars, which I wore as a child, required only one 
button, and the one now serving as a rearguard then 
graced my youthful Adam's apple. 



38o OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

CLARENCE DAY, JR. 

Clarence Day, Jr., deserves a much better biography 
of himself than the one he has furnished. This is it: 

Clarence Day, Jr., was born in 1874 in New York. 
He is a graduate of Yale University, and the author 
of "This Simian World.'' 

Since this brief note was written, Mr. Day has pub- 
lished another book entitled "The Crow's Nest" I 
am tempted to quote something from it, with Mr. 
Day's permission, which, I make no doubt, he will 
grant, but before doing so, it would be well to make 
note here that Mr. Day is a special kind of humorist. 
Indeed, I would hesitate, in one sense, to call him a 
humorist at all. I have put him in the yotuiger set, 
and, quite possibly, this is a mistake ; not that his years 
are so many, only that he has a vein of real wisdom, 
a kind of deep spiritual insight that is not so tikely 
to come to youth, but is rather the result of certain 
forces, reluctantly and slowly, working upon one I 
am only guessing at Mr. Day — ^am only trying to 
express about him certain things that I feci quitt 
vaguely. I do not suppose that he would ever be 
popular — at least not until some years after he had 
passed away. 

In this respect, indeed, there are two classes of 
writers, each of whom is unable to understand the 
point of view of the other, and yet there is justificatioa 
for both. The first class is very small in numbers. 
They are the ones that shrink from publicity; they 



THE YOUNGER SET 381 

have reserved minds. They seek for perfection. They 
do not stoop. They are quite unable to develop any 
sort of skill in doing that common thing known as 
''advancing your interests." It isn't that they would not 
like to be known — only that they don't know how to 
make themselves known, except by doing things that 
they cannot do. They have no self -advertising power. 
I may be mistaken, but I rather get it that Mr. Day 
belongs in this class. His work has extraordinary 
merit — all very quiet, but highly artistic and effective. 

Now the other class of writers is composed of those 
that can not help doing the other thing. They are 
sometimes despised for doing it, but this is a mistake. 
Mr. Broun, for example, undoubtedly belongs in this 
class. It is natural for him to write carelessly, and 
to write about himself, and to give his own opinions. 
Those horribly offensive people — the ones that have 
every one's ''interest at heart" have occasionally re- 
marked to me that they thought Mr. Broun wrote too 
much. But that is what everybody does— either writ- 
ing or talking. That is to say, Mr. Broun may do a 
little bit more of what everybody is doing too much 
of. But that is not the way to find out about him, 
or to find out about Mr. Day. There is, in short, no 
standard that I have been able to discover, whereby 
a writer can be judged, except whether he is interest- 
ing to you, personally. And, in each case, the man 
himself should be quite separated from his work. 

For a long time, I didn't believe this, rebelled against 
it, but I am coming to see now that a man's work is 
what counts, not what the man is or what he does. 

About Mr. Day, I think it may be said of him that 



382 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

possibly he is more of a satirist than a humorist. He 
^ is really both. His "Simian World" is a fine satire on 
the human race. And here is the thing I promised 
to quote, a little thing about Cows in his "Crow's 
Nest" — and I quote it, not because it is necessarily his 
best thing, but because Mr. Broun, when the book came 
out quoted it in his column. 

On Cows 

I was thinking the other evening of cows. Yon 
say why? I can't tell you. But it came to me, all 
of a sudden, that cows lead hard lives. It takes such 
a lot of grass, apparently, to keep a cow going that she 
has to spend all of her time eating, day in and day out. 
Dogs bounce around and bark, horses caper, birds fly, 
also sing, while the cow looks on, enviously, maybe. 
unable to join them. Cows may long for conversation 
or prancing, for all that we know, but they can't spare 
the time. The problem of nourishment takes every 
hour. A pause might be fatal. So they go through 
life, drearily eating, resentful and dumb. Their food is 
most uninteresting, and is frequently covered with 
bugs; and their thoughts, when they dwell on 
their hopeless careers, must be bitter. In the 
old days, when huge and strange animals roamed 
through the world, there was an era when great 
size was necessary, as a protection. All creatures 
that could do so grew large. It was only thus 
they felt safe. But as soon as they became 
large, the grass eating creatures began to have 
trouble because of the fact that grass has a low 
nutritive value. You take a dinosaur, for instance, who 
was sixty or seventy feet long. Imagine what a hard 



THE YOUNGER SET 383 

task it must have been for him, every day, to get 
enough grass down his throat to supply his vast body. 
Do you wonder that, as the scientists tell us, they died 
of exhaustion? Some starved to death, even while 
feverishly chewing their cud — ^the remoter parts of their 
bodies fainting from famine, while their fore-parts got 
fed. This exasperating fate is what darkens the mind 
of the cow. 

DON HEROLD 

The first time I ever heard of Don Herold was one 
day when Oliver Herford came to me in a state of 
feverish excitement and declared that Herold was the 
best humorist we had, or other feverish words to that 
effect. For days, Herford (who is that way) would 
talk of nothing else but Herold. Then he kept refer- 
ring to something Herold had written about Noah 
Webster, and that it was very funny. And so I met 
Herold and got him to write something for Life, and 
afterwards got him to write his biography. He 
hedged. This was all I could get out of him : 

Birth: Yes. Usual birth; at Bloomfield, Indiana, 
July, 1889; only relatives and friends. Education: 
No. None whatever, including A. B. Indiana Uni- 
versity. First Began Literary Work: Yes. Where 
Has Work Appeared: Life, Judge, Collier's, Harper's, 
American Magazine, Newspaper s)mdicates. Best 
Price: $50 a word. In college, wired father: "Send 
fifty." 

But with it he sent me a copy of his famous piece 
on "Noah Webster*' (from Judge), and here it is: 



384 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Noah Webster's Cleverness 

"Need 250 more words, or book is going to be too 
thin," was the telegram that Noah Webster rccei\"cd 
from his publishers. The Cast Iron Dictionary Pedestal 
Company. 

Noah Webster was seldom madder in his life. "Oh 
shoot ! I'm sick and tired and disgusted with the whole 
proposition," he said to himself. 

Then he sat down and wrote them a stinging tele- 
gram : "Impossible to think up any more words." 

He wondered why he had ever tied himself up with 
these people. No doubt it was his passionate anxiety 
to get his book published. None of the regular pub- 
lishers would take it, and it was only as a last resort 
that he placed it in the hands of The Cast Iron Dic- 
tionary Pedestal Company, which was really nothing 
but a branch of The North American Bridge and 
Structural Iron Corporation. 

As he sat thinking it all over, in the room in which 
he usually sat and thought, he received an answer to 
his telegram. There were fewer telegrams in those 
days, so they moved faster. 

"Agreement was that book was to weigh at least 
75 pounds. Otherwise people are apt to hold it in their 
laps. We cannot publish hand-book or lap-book. 
Must have at least 13 pounds more." 

Noah Webster could of course understand their point 
of view, and then again he couldn't. The entire success 
of the plan was based upon the weight of the bode. 
The publishers did not care about what was in it 
There would be no profit to them in the book itself. 
In fact, they had told Noah Webster that they would 
actually lose money on the book. All that they wanted 
was to sell a lot of cast iron pedestals at a good profit 



THE YOUNGER SET 385 

But it made Noah angry to think that his publishers 
cared nothing about the art of the thing. Already he 
had put in several thousand unnecessary words, and 
still they called for more. They were rtdning his 
dictionary. 

"Darn, but us authors always have a hard time of 
it r* he mumbled. Then he had an idea, and he wrote 
another telegram : 

"Lift all pictures out of text of book and repeat them 
in special illustrated section in back of hookJ' A good 
stroke. 

"I'd like to bust their old cast-iron, three-legged 
pedestals." Then he wrote another telegram: "Am 
writing pronouncing gazetteer. Will fill 168 pages." 

The dictionary and the cast-iron stand were already 
widely advertised and prices were quoted on each. A 
demon thought came into Noah Webster's fertile brain. 
"I'll write such a thick book that they will have to make 
the pedestals so strong they won't make a cent on 
either the stands or the books." 

Then he scraped up about 1500 new words and de- 
fined each of them until he was black in the face. In 
a few days he mailed the manuscript, with the note: 
"Must go." The next day he mailed another bunch of 
manuscript, "Beginner's Guide to Pronunciation" and 
he wrote about 50 pages of "History of the English 
Language." 

It was in the contract that the book could be as thick 
as he pleased. They were not to restrict him. The 
mistake the company had made was in quoting a price 
in full page advertisements in all the newspapers on 
their dictionary and pedestal. 

"There ought to be several thousand obsolete words. 
I'll dig them up and send them in." And in a few 
days Noah Webster mailed in a few hundred feet of 



386 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

these. The next morning he received a telegram: 
"Stop. Book already i6 pounds overweight." He 
chuckled, and sat down and wrote a reply: "Run 
pictures of flags of all nations on extra heavy paper in 
front of book." 

Well, the result was, as those of you know who recall 
the bankruptcy of The North American Bridge and 
Structural Iron Corporation, that the book was so thick 
the publishers had to put a great deal more material 
in the stands than they originally intended, and they 
lost money not only on the books (as they planned) 
but also on every stand they sold. And this is the 
story of how one author got even with his publishers. 
It is the only instance of its kind on record. 

Burlesqtie 

While humor itself is never so popular as it seems 
to be, the public is eager to grasp anything that is new, 
and, owing to certain circumstances, the great reputa- 
tions achieved by two young men during the past year 
have been quite remarkable. One of these young men 
was a newcomer. The other was, or had been, a writer 
of great success in certain fields. Both published first 
books. Both books were seized upon' by the public. 
The whole affair was so extraordinary that it is worth 
while recording briefly, not only as an example of 
publishing enterprise, but also as establishing the fact 
that real merit is sure to be recognized. The first book 
was the ''Cruise of the Kawa," by George Chappell, 
the second was "A Parody Outline of American His- 
tory/' by Donald Ogden Stewart. 

When these young men started their respective en- 



THE YOUNGER SET 387 

deavors, burlesque was undoubtedly in the air. The 
period of reckless abandon immediately succeeding this 
was at full swing. Everything, mentally, was wide 
open. On the one hand, Frederick O'Brien had pub- 
lished his book entitled **Mystic Isles of the South 
Seas'' a mingling of sex appeal and realism, and, on 
the other hand, there had been some agitation about 
American history text books. Here was an opportu- 
nity for burlesque. Both of these young men, doubt- 
less unknown to each other, seized upon it. Mr. 
Chappell, an architect, had discovered for himself a 
talent for writing, which he employed to good advan- 
tage in some pieces that first appeared in Vanity Fair, 
under the tutelage of the polished Frank Crownin- 
shield. He became a member of that group of writers, 
some of them old, more of them young, who hung 
about *'Crowny" as he is affectionately called, and, with 
an extraordinary talent, proceeded to build this book, 
figuring himself as Dr. Traprock. The affair pro- 
gressed with great skill. The book, admirably covered 
and printed, contained a long and, in places, some tedi- 
ous account of Dr. Traprock's adventures. Mr. 
Chappell got some of his cronies to pose as South Sea 
Islanders, the photographs being taken, if I remember 
rightly, somewhere along Long Island Sound. A din- 
ner was given to usher in the book. Don Marquis, 
in his column, and Heywood Broun, in his, nobly came 
to the rescue. Dr. Traprock was exploited day after 
day by these respective writers. The book was issued. 
The suburbs took it up. Knowing ladies nudged one 
another and asked each other if the other had read it. 



388 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Mr. Chappell, in the guise of Dr. Traprock, is still 
lecturing about the country. 

Mr. Donald Stewart's method was somewhat quieter, 
but none the less successful. He began publishing his 
parody of American history in the Bookman. It at- 
tracted the attention of the keen Mr. Broun, who gave 
it a deservedly fine notice. When the book was pub- 
lished it "caught on." Thus two smart young men, 
by a set of circumstances that seemed, from start to 
finish, to reek of commercialism— of that kind of suc- 
cessful publicity which, when it is successful, excited 
the envy of everybody concerned, were able to achieve 
these results. The question remains whether they were 
simply lucky, or whether their respective books, i f pub- 
lished without any preliminary notices or "business," 
would have been taken up by the public. 

It is impossible to answer this question with any 
accuracy. But one thing is quite certain. Both books 
would have fallen flat as pancakes if they had not had 
extraordinary merits. Undoubtedly the authors were 
lucky in getting them out at a moment when that 
sort of thing was possible — when all the circumstance? 
were favorable. And yet no one can read these books, 
with a critical eye, without seeing in them things that 
we may be in America **proud to own." Both Mr. 
Chappell and Mr. Stewart are young men of great 
promise. They need now only to deepen their work 
to make it more lasting. 

It was about this time that another burlesque suc- 
cess must be recorded in the field of comic journalism 
by a young man named Robert Sherwood, who 



THE YOUNGER SET 389 

out of Harvard, who had been through the war, who 
had been associated with "Crowny," and who finally 
landed in the office of Life — ^as it happened at the time 
— as one of my own assistants. Sherwood undoubtedly 
belonged to the younger group. He had met Robert 
Benchley and Mrs. Dorpthy Parker in the office of 
Vanity Fair. With them was another young chap 
named William Henry Hanemann, and many's the time 
we grieved for him to think of his carrying about a 
long name like that. It was this group of writers that 
conceived among them the idea of getting up what 
possibly was almost the most famous number of Life — 
namely — the "Burlesque Number.'' Their methods 
were secret and mysterious. Bob Sherwood headed 
the gang. They had clandestine meetings with the 
printer, and they regarded Louis Shipman (now editor 
of Life), Oliver Her ford and myself, all of whom 
belonged to a prehistoric age, with suspicion and con- 
tumely. They were obliged to consort with Frank 
Casey, the art editor, because he had charge of the 
plates. The fatal day arrived when the number 
was to be made up. Never before in the entire history 
of Life had there been such secrecy. But, at last, the 
complete proofs were spread before us, and we pro- 
nounced them good. The result is known to all lovers 
of burlesque. Afterwards, a stream of telegrams and 
letters poured into the office in all directions, everybody 
agreeing that this number of Life well deserved its 
name. The following year (September, 1922) Mr. 
Sherwood and his trained band of burlesqucrs issued 
another burlesque number, a takc-ofF on the Sttnday 
papers, admirably done. 



390 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

This first number, however, was not without its 
pathetic side. One picture published in it was a doc- 
tored photograph of an old man. A letter was received 
from a young woman who declared it her father's 
picture (her father was deceased), and that she couldn't 
understand how we could have obtained it. Several 
others wrote in, in answer to some of the seeming 
advertisements. As a matter of fact, I do not believe 
that one-half of the readers of Life understood whai 
the number was all about. But among the small pro- 
portion of literary elite, the intellegentsia and adver- 
tisers, this number is now a classic. But I don't think 
that Bob Sherwood ever recovered from it. Since then, 
he has become so seriously involved in the movies that 
his great and growing reputation as an international 
humorist is sadly threatened. 

How many others there are among the younger set 
who deserve an account of their taJents! They arc 
coming up all the time — ^an increasing body of joy- 
ous souls. I recall among them the names of 
Frederick L. Allen, Isaac Anderson, Arthur Bugs Bacr. 
Fairfax Downey, Morris Bishop, Mabel H. CoII}-cr. 
James Dyen forth, Katherine Dayton, Caroline Duer. 
Elmer Davis, Foster Ware, Corey Ford, Lauren S. 
Hamilton, McCready Huston, E. J. Keifer, Neal 
O'Hara, Charles G. Shaw, Nate Salsbury and Joseph 
Van Raalte. Of these Mr. Allen writes for the 
Lion's Mouth, Harper's Magazine — a charming es- 
sayist. Mr. Anderson writes jokes, Mr. Bacr writes 
for Hearst's American some of the funniest things 
printed. Mr. Neal O'Hara is on the Boston Post, and 
quite celebrated as an after-dinner speaker, and both 



THE YOUNGER SET 391 

Nate Salsbury and Mr. Van Raalte display talents that 
will give them greater prominence as time goes on. Mr. 
Salsbury writes under the name of "Baren Ireland," 
a remarkably versatile young man, with a decidedly 
nice touch, and a splendid vein. As for Mr. Van 
Raalte, who writes for the World, I predict for him 
a great reputation. He is good, very good. Frederick 
W. Van De Water has also been making an enviable 
reputation as a columnist, his work on the New York 
Tribune showing very fine literary quality and New- 
man Levy's work in the Saturday Evening Post is 
astonishingly clever. 

Then, there are young Battell Loomis, son of a 
famous humorist, and Gregory Hartswick, son of a 
splendid mother and writer. Both of these young men 
are coming on. And so, au revoir to them, and good 
luck! 

' American Press Humorists 

(Membership List) 

Franklin P. Adams New York Tribune 

Grif Alexander Philadelphia Evening Public 

Ledger 

Mrs. Darrah Aldrick Minneapolis, Minn. 

Berton Braley New York 

George Bingham May field, Ky. 

John Nicholas Beffel New York 

Clare A. Briggs New York Tribune 

James H. Birch, Jr. Burlington, N. J. 

John W. Carey Review, Rock Rapids, la. 

Arthur Chapman Care New York Tribune 

Will Levington Comfort Santa Monico, Calif. 

Paul Cook Age-Herald, Birmingham, Ala. 

Edmund Vance Cooke Cleveland, Ohio 

Marjorie Benton Cooke American Magazine, New York 



392 



OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 



Homer Croy 
Irvin S. Cobb 
Thomas A. Daly 
Jay N. Darling 
Walter Juan Davis 
J. H. Donahey 
George Douglas 
Robert J. Dean 
John I. Flinn 
J. W. Foley 
Strickland W. Gillilan 
Richard Graves 
Edgar A. Guest 
L. H. Gingles 
Chi H. Gamble 
Kin Hubbard 
William Herschell 
J. U. Higginbotham 
Don Herold 
Stanley Horn 

Grant E. Hamilton 
Dr. John Hutchinson 
F. Gregory Hartswick 
Ray I. Hoppman 
M. H. James 
Will. J. Johnson 
Al. C. Joy 
B urges Johnson 
William E. Lowes 
S. E. Kiser 
Peter B. Kyne 
Ring W. Lardner 
Charles A. Leedy 
James Melvin Lee 
Judd Mortimer Lewis 
Battell Loomis 
Orson Lowell 
John T. McCutcheon 
Clarke McAdams 
Douglas Malloch 
R. P. McPhee 



Forest Hills, Long Island, N. Y. 
Rebel Ridge, Ossining, N. Y. 
Record, Philadelphia, Pa. 
Register Tribune, Des Moines, la. 
Morning Telegraph, New York 
Plain Dealer, Cleveland 
Chronicle, San Francisco 
New York City 

Christian Science Monitor, Boston 
Hotel Oakland, Oakland, Calif. 
Roland Park, Baltimore, Md. 
Tulsa, Okla. 
Detroit Free Press 
Waukesha, Wis. 
Journal, Peoria, IlL 
Indianapolis News 
Indianapolis News 
San Francisco 
New York City 
Southern Lumbemum, NashYiOc, 

Tenn. 
New York 
New York 
Judge, New York 
Telegram, New York 
Harrisburg, Pa. 

Register Gaeette, Rockford, IE 
Examiner, San Francisco 
Vassar College 
New York American 
Thousand Oaks, Berkeley, CaliL 
New York Tribune 
Telegram, Youngstown, Ohio 
New York University 
Houston Post 
Denver Times 
New York 

B. & O., Baltimore, Md. 
Chicago Tribune 
Post-Dispatch, St. Louis^ Ma 
Chicago, 111. 
Union, Springfield, Mass. 



THE YOUNGER SET 



393 



Don Marquis 
Walt Mason 
W. Kee Maxwell 
A. U. Mayfidd 
Dixon Merritt 

Edward W. Miller 
W. H. Miller 
Roy K. Moulton 
John J. Mundy 
Charles H. Musgrove 
Folger McKinsey 
Christopher Morley 
W. D. Nesbit 
Newton Newkirk 
Ralph Parlette 
Arthur L. Price 
Robert L. Pemberton 
H. L. Rann 
J. W. Raper 
Lowell Otis Reese 
Leonard H. Robbins 
Kenneth L. Roberts 
Edwin Meade Robinson 
William Ganson Rose 
Grantland Rice 
John E. Sanford 
Fred Schaefer 
James T. Sullivan 
Charles Sykes 

E. Tracy Sweet 
Maurice Switser 
McLandburg Wilson 
Will R. Rose 
Duncan Smith 
A. J. Taylor 
Miriam Teichner 
Bert Thomas 
Robert D. Towne 
A. Walter Utting 
Henry Edward Warner 



New York Tribute 

Eiiq>oria, Kans. 

Evening Times, Akron, O. 

Denver, Colo. 

Dept. of Agriculture, Washing- 
ton, D. C. 

Chicago 

Republican Times, Ottawa, 111. 

New York 

Star, Ashtabula, Ohio 

Times, Louisville, Ky» 

Baltimore Sun 

New York Evening Post 

Chicago, 111. 

Boston 

Lyceum Magazine, Chicago 

San Francisco Examiner 

Oracle, St. Mary's, W. Va. 

Press, Machester, la. 

Press, Cleveland 

Auto Rest, Calif. 

Newark, N. J. 

Kennebunk Beach, Me. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer 

Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland 

New York Tribune 

Detroit, Mich. 

Brooklyn, N. Y. 

Boston Globe 

Philadelphia Evening Public 
Ledger 

Scranton, Pa. 

New York 

New York 

Cleveland Plain Dealer 

St. Paul, Minn. 

Los Angeles, Calif. 

New York 

News, Detroit, Mich. 

Philadelphia North American 

Woodhaven, L. I., N, Y, 

Baltimore Sun 



394 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 



James 'A. Waldron 
H. T. Webster 
Harlowe P. White 
Waldemar Young 
Treve Collins, Jr. 
Ed Howe 
Ralph Bingham 
Leslie Van Every 
C. L. Edson 
Mrs. Elizabeth Sears 
Jay E. House 



Judge, New York 

Globe, New York 

Leader, Cleveland, Ohio 

San Francisco Chranide 

Brooklyn, N. Y. 

Atchison Globe 

Philadelphia 

Kalamazoo, Mich. 

New York 

Chicago 

Phil<idelphia Public Ledger 



CHAPTER XXXVII 



THE COMIC POETS 



Walt Mason, James J. Montague, Arthur Guiterman, 

Tom Daly 

IF it is difficult, with people that have no sense of 
humor, to make them understand what humor is, 
think how much more difficult it is in the case of 
humorous poetry. There are subtle cadences in much 
comic poetry, especially if it be of the more delicate 
type, which are so far beyond the ears of most people, 
that even to tell them that here is something they will 
never understand is, in itself, a waste of time. Not 
only does it bewilder them, but it may infuriate them. 
Nobody, no matter how ignorant he may be, likes 
patronage of that sort. If I understand much in 
poetry that is delightful, and you do not, it doesn't mean 
that I am intellectually superior. In many other ways 
you may be superior to me. It does mean, however, 
that we should all of us be tolerant of those who seem 
to be enjoying something that does not afford us any 
enjoyment. The philistine attitude, which is so ob- 
jectionable, is the attitude of dismissing anything 
because one doesn't understand it, of declaring that it 
cannot be of any consequence merely because one has 

395 



396 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

no ear for it. There is, of course, a like danger at 
the other end — ^the danger of assuming that, because 
one does understand a thing, and takes a particular de- 
light in it, all other people are fools or ignoramuses 
when they don't take a similar delight. Thus the tenn 
intellectual, and after it, intelligentsia, have come to 
mean certain things that are peculiarly offensive to 
the majority of wholesome and sensible people, who 
readily recognize, under the pretensions of certain 
poets, writers and artists, nothing but the most blatant 
hypocrisy. People with defective apparatus, who can- 
not maintain themselves by the ordinary rules, are verj- 
likely to resort to tricks; they rapidly discover that 
they can fool some of the people all of the time, and 
as there are plenty of people, they move about from one 
set to another. This country is peculiarly susceptible 
to such creatures. It is a stamping ground for fakers. 
Thus, an art movement based upon some particular 
piece of impudent decadence, and that receives but scant 
attention in Europe, may be started there merely for 
the purpose of gathering in a crop of dollars here. 
America lends itself to this sort of thing more readily 
than other countries, because of its bigness, and because 
of its polyglot population, there being no fixed stand- 
ard of taste in any field. Not having any standards of 
our own, we are obliged to accept what we can get 
from the outside, and, as these are offered to us in the 
guise of the classic, or the ''genuine," and we have no 
means of determining the genuine from the false, it 
necessarily follows that we are constantly imposed 
upon. The situation is not helped any by the fact that 
our moneyed classes are so occupied, either with making 



THE COMIC POETS 397 

or squandering money, that they have no time for 
culture. They are, therefore, even more readily im- 
posed upon than simple people, whose instincts keep 
them guileless. For example, the head of a fashionable 
girls' school told me that she could not employ a music 
teacher who did not have a European certificate be- 
cause her wealthy patrons would not think they were 
getting **their money's worth'' if a man was employed 
who received his musical education in America. She 
was thus obliged to dismiss a young man who was 
well equipped to teach, and employ one who was 
inferior. 

I shrink from making general statements not based 
upon accurate facts, but rather close observation ofx 
American life for many years has convinced me that 
the higher up one goes among the alleged intelligent 
classes in this country, the lower becomes the standard 
of genuine culture. That is to say ; if it can be proved 
that we have any standard of art, of literature, or of 
music at all, I believe that it exists among the common 
people rather than among the most highly educated. 
The so-called educated people of this country may be 
divided, roughly, into two classes: those that have 
their education from others, and those that have ac- 
quired it in order to sell it to others. In between these 
two classes is a very much smaller class, those that have 
dug in for themselves, that have sacrificed mere ma- 
terial things for the sake of teaching themselves. These 
are the real people among the whole mass of the edu- 
cated. But, on the other hand, when you leave the 
educated and get down among the so-called common 
people, there is where you get genuine art, genuine 



398 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

music, genuine literature, because it is fundamental, 
and it is essentially the foundation upon which the 
whole structure rests. There is where you find people 
really singing — singing at their work. Our darker 
melodies are fundamental. You don't hear college 
professors singing at their work — ^if you did they 
would be mobbed. A boy I know, seventeen years of 
age, rose one morning very early in a preparatory 
school to look at the sun rise ; the head master discov- 
ered him in this heinous act, and demerited him; he 
ran away from school. Do you blame him? 

Now, it may be asked, if what I say is true, why 
are there so many terrible abortions in the shape of 
art and literature being inflicted upon the masses of 
common people? Why does sentimentality run riot 
in the movies, and why do the works of Harold BcU 
Wright and others of the Pollyanna school meet with 
such wide response? The reason is because, even as 
bad as we think these may be, they are much better 
than the "higher up" stuff. Where any particular work 
is taken hold of by the public, be assured that there 
is something to it. That does not mean that it is 
necessarily good art — it may be quite bad — but it docs 
mean that it is much better than what precious people 
are giving us. Take the question of sex, or of doi^'n- 
right indecency. Is it not true that neither of these 
things exists to any extent in our newspapers, more 
widely read than any other form of typography ? Our 
newspapers, sensational as some of them may be, arc 
generally clean — they make no sex appeal. They know 
that the people do not want indecency, which is usually 
confined to the occasional periodicals — those of more 



THE COMIC POETS 399 

limited circulation. Indeed, the periodicals among us 
that have the widest circulation are absolutely clean, 
knowing that they would be ruined if they made sex 
appeals. And this has always been true. Indecency 
is only a form of decadence, and the instincts of healthy 
people are all against it. 

Now, one of the peculiar qualities of all poetry is 
that it can never serve as a medium for sex appeal. 
There is, of course, prurient poetry, but it has no thrill. 
It has no other trait but nastiness, and of this there is 
very little. All this seems strange, because the founda- 
tion of all poetry is feeling, and certainly love has never 
been so well expressed as through the medium of 
poetry. It is almost impossible to indicate the delicacy 
with which certain thoughts and feelings we have may 
be expressed through poetry, execept by giving actual 
examples. But take this bit by Anthony Munday 
( 1 553-1633 ) . Would it be possible, through any other 
medium, to convey the restraint, the suggestion of 
quaint humor, the absolute fidelity to that admixture of 
animal and spiritual that we call human nature ? 

Beauty sat bathing by a spring, 

Where fairest shades did hide her; 
The winds blew calm, the birds did sing, 

The cool streams ran beside her. 
My wanton thoughts enticed mine eye 

To see what was forbidden : 
But better memory said Fie; 

So vain desire was chidden — 
Hey nonny nonny O! 
Hey nonny nonny! 



400 OUR AMERICAN HLTMORISTS 

Into a slumber then I fell, 

And fond imagination 
Seemed to see, but could not tcU 

Her feature or her fashion : 
But ev'n as babes in dreams do smile. 

And sometimes fall a-weeping, 
So I waked as wise that while 

As when I fell a-sleeping. 

It would seem almost as if poetry, in its province of 
portraying our emotions, was incapable of using itself 
for the purpose of soliciting our baser passions, from 
which it ever holds itself aloof. Yet what power it has 
to move us to better things ! 

Most of us now know that, in manipulating a wire- 
less receiving station, we are first forced to tune our 
instrument to the right wave length of the sending 
station before we can hear anjrthing from that sta- 
tion. We know also that we can readily go from one 
station to the other, receiving from each in turn, and 
sometimes a part of two, merel> by changing to the 
wave lengths of the sending stations we want to listen 
to. Is this not a perfect illustration of our varying 
appreciation of poetry? Unless our particular station 
is equipped with an accurate auditory receiver it will 
be utterly impossible to understand poetry. One of the 
most singular illusions entertained by some people is 
the belief that they can write poetry. In every com- 
munity there is some poor soul who inflicts his verses 
upon the readers of the local paper and, encouraged 
by the editor, acquires a reputation that often stands 
by him to the grave, so that he dies in the belief that 
he is a poet. One or two of my own newspsqier friends. 



THE COMIC POETS 401 

whose names I charitably withhold, have been guilty 
in thus fostering fictitious reputations, by reprinting 
horrible verses from some obscure "singers" and help- 
ing them on their path of illusion. May it not be 
right after all to do this, and what is the difference, so 
long as the result is secured ? Many people have repu- 
tations for respectability who, within, are quite hollow 
— and if a man thinks he is a real poet all his life, 
he is, so far as he is concerned. 

I think it was William James who, some years before 
he died, made an attempt to define a standard of lit- 
erature, so that any given production could be judged, 
not precisely by an "efficiency*' chart, but by certain 
accepted rules agreed to by competent judges. Such 
attempts of course are not new. So far as poetry is 
concerned, the most blatant experiment to reduce poetry 
to a science was made by Hudson Maxim in his 
"Science of Poetry*' — a perfect illustration of the fu- 
tility of reducing any form of art to a formula. It 
seems to be true, indeed, of all scientific minds, that 
they are utterly incapable of understanding anything 
that is not material. The fine frenzy of the poet, the 
search for reality of the mystic — ^all these spiritual 
things escape them. This is the more strange because 
all that is finest and best in life, all those invisible 
things — God, and Reality, The Self, The Universe, 
Brahma, The Tao — call it what you will, are based 
upon Law, and Law is based on mathematics, on num- 
bers, as Heraclitus pointed out so long ago. Thus it 
would seem as if all intelligent minds, working in re^ 
stricted fields, would come rapidly to understand that 
it may not be given to them to grasp the perfection that 



402 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

has been achieved by others : or to put it in another way, 
it would seem as if all intelligent minds would tend 
to become more humble, instead of more self-assertive. 
Should the reader wish an example of what I mean. 
let him turn to an essay on George Eliot, by Eldmund 
Gosse, in his "Aspects and Impressions" (Scribncr). 
Mr. Gosse gives a bit of poetry written by George 
Eliot which is he declares "the best piece of poetry 
that George Eliot achieved." He then quotes the poem 
(a sonnet) and observes: "How near this is to true 
poetry, and yet how many miles away I" 
The first four lines are as follows: 

His sorrow was my sorrow, and his joy 

Sent little leaps and laughs through all my frame 
My doll seemed lifeless, and no girlish toy 

Had any reason when my brother came. 

Those that know poetry when they read it, and 
those that do not, are widely separated. Nothing can 
be done about either. And poetry itself cannot be put 
on any basis of so-called "efficiency." 

I have friends who are incited to fury by the very 
mention of Amy Lowell. Yet there is a certain quality 
about her work that is often charming. Our best poet 
is considered to be Edwin Arlington Robinson; j-ct. 
in England, he is thought to be dull by the best critics. 
There is naturally a difference of opinion about him 
over there, his adherents being enthusiastic. Yet it is 
undeniably true that his poetry is not received there 
with the same acceptance accorded to that of Vachel 
Lindsay. 



THE COMIC POETS 403 

So far as the comic poets are concerned, practically 
our whole school of comic poetry is derived from the 
English comic poets. Without Calverly and Locker- 
Lampson, without Tom Hood, or Thackeray even, or 
at present, Sir Owen Seaman of Punch, and a number 
of others, where would our American versifiers be? 
Few of them have succeeded in breaking loose from the 
British tradition. Without W. S. Gilbert and his 
"Bab Ballads," not to mention his masterpieces in 
comic opera, it is doubtful if half our American comic 
poetry to-day, would be in existence. 

Yet this, in itself, should not be taken as condemna- 
tion. On the contrary, pattern is essential. Un- 
doubtedly the English writers got much of their 
inspiration and their form from the classical poets, 
particularly Horace. Shakespeare was only the best of 
a long line of contemporaries. Mahaffy, if I mistake 
not, says that, in Athens, there have been discovered 
over eight hundred fragments of comic operas. Per- 
fection comes only through a great number all work- 
ing for the same end. The real criticism to be made 
against our American comic poets is not that they copy 
the form of the British poets, but that they have so 
little else of genuine soil-inspiration to show. We are 
constantly looking for some poet of the people, who it 
is hoped will voice the native longings. Thus we had 
Walt Whitman, acclaimed by many foreign critics as 
a genuine poet ; we have Whitcomb Riley, and latterly 
we have Vachel Lindsay and Sherwood Anderson. 
There is humor in much of this — sometimes very grim, 
but unmistakably there. 



404 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

During the past few years there has been a tremen- 
dous outburst of poetry on both sides of the Atlantic 
And while it may be true that, in verse writing pure 
and simple, we fall behind our British cousins who 
excel us in the finer cadences, in the more delicate word 
meanings, yet we often come closer to nature in our 
more boisterous efforts. 

In his preface to "Poems from Punch'' Mr. W. R 
Drayton has this to say about the Comic Spirit : 

If our comedy is the golden roof we raise, the 
shining triumph of the small matter of man's spirit 
over frowning great difficulties, something must be 
exacted of the builders who, if it is reared at all, most 
rear it. True comedy is essentially social. It reflects 
truth, and its servants, building it constantly and im- 
materially, must be servants of the truest social good. 
Satirists and cynics, tragedians and farceurs, may be 
as remote from life as they please and as individual- 
istic. The servant of the Comic Spirit knows his kind. 
moves with them and loves them. He could be strong 
without this love no more than Antaeus without earth. 
It puts him in possession of the strength of the whole. 
Allow for the necessary semi-detachment of the artist, 
and it gives to all who serve the Comic Spirit that 
sense of more than equalness to the task which makes 
men sing as they work, and of that work, otherwise 
perhaps uninspired, makes the true domus aurea. 

It is precisely this note of remoteness that distin- 
guishes the Comic Spirit, and it is just in this respect 
that, on this side, we fall short beoiuse our poetry is 
more commercialized. Where we excel, as I have tried 
to point out, is in directness, is in downrifi^ht unerring^ 



THE COMIC POETS 405 

ness, that is to say, in occasional flashes of racial 
humor, in the getting at the heart of things in a prac- 
tical manner, as one hews down a tree. The humor 
of our baseball fields for instance is untranslatable, — 
swift, fleeting, exact in its terminology, unmistakable 
in its meaning. And it is precisely this genius for say- 
ing the direct thing that does such good service in our 
comic singing, marred as it is by the circumstance of 
earning out of it, not only a decent, but very often a 
luxurious living. Consider, for example, those poets 
who syndicate their verses, and, thus writing them in 
advance, who have them appear simultaneously in hun- 
dreds of papers all over the country! That is what 
Walt Mason does — spreading the gospel of joy to 
millions of people daily from his Kansas emporium of 
Pegasus. The late W. D. Howells set great store by 
Walt Mason's poetry, and praised it very highly— de- 
servedly so. It is clean and wholesome, and fulfills a 
useful purpose. Personally, I believe that it has 
helped greatly in getting people, over a widespread 
area, to read poetry: by luring them first to his 
province, Mr. Mason has introduced them to other 
poets. 

"Don't be afraid of us," he has said in effect. "We 
are gentle people ; it will help you to sing with us." 

The basis of all poetry is rhythm, and rh)^hm is 
music, and music is vibration, and vibration is mathe- 
matical and depends upon the laws of the universe. 
When we speak of getting "close to nature" we little 
realize that it is not so essential for us to send our 
physical bodies into the deeps of the forest, highly 
desirable and recreating physically as that may be, as it 



4o6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

is to get what Mr. Trine calls "into tune with the 
Universe"; and this can be done only through self- 
discipline, and self-discipline is only tuning up. All 
this is a personal affair. Those that have taken the 
trouble to teach themselves, even imperfectly, any art, 
come to realize the new accretions in spiritual and 
mental power they receive through the avenues thus 
opened up. It is not in the finer gradations of scholar- 
ship that education or culture lies, but it consists almost 
entirely in that rhythmic quality that comes from train- 
ing. Therefore Walt Mason's contribution to his 
period has been, and is, very considerable. He has 
introduced the American public to rh)^hm. He has 
helped them unconsciously to see what poetry is, what 
pleasant thoughts it may stir up. 

From what Mr. Howells has written about Mr. 
Mason I am taking the Uberty to quote as follows 
(Harper's Magazine) : 

The great Mr. Pope, indeed, made his money mostly, 
if not quite entirely, by the subscription publication of 
his Homer; for it was not Homer's Horner, though so 
polished and charming. Whereas we understand Mr. 
Riley's income has been from the sale of his books 
**in the trade." Has it been as great as Mr. Mason's? 
We have no right to ask this question, for it is not 
Mr. Riley whom the Kansas City Star has been inter- 
viewing, and, as we divergently began by saying, we 
are not clear as to the real sum of Mr. Mason's gains. 
"What is your annual income frbm poetry?" the inter- 
viewer promptly asks, and Mr. Mason answers with 
apparently the same frankness: "My lowest price a 
rime is fifteen dollars when I sell in carload lot& 



THE COMIC POETS 407 

The Adam Syndicate, for which I furnish a daily rime 
all the year 'round, pays me twelve dollars each. I 
often receive as much as twenty or twenty-five dollars 
for a magazine poem. The most I ever earned with my 
trusty typewriter was $875 in one month.'' One 
would think that this was a definite statement, but 
these are the months of the year — we are writing four 
or five weeks before the ist of March — when all good 
citizens are trying to keep to the leeward of the United 
States Revenue Collector, and we would like to know 
whether Mr. Mason is swearing to $3758, or there- 
abouts, as to his annual income. We do not say it is 
not, but if Mr. Mason's poems are syndicated to, say, 
perhaps two hundred newspapers every day, does he 
mean to tell us that he gets $12 a day from the entire 
group, or $12 from each paper, and $2,400 from all? 
Is his annual income, therefore, $3700 or, more ac- 
curately, $751,820? We think he will agree with us 
that the last figures would more truly represent the 
worth of his output, but we will not bring his modesty 
to the blush on this point, and will rather leave him 
to his conscience with the Revenue Collector. If his 
annual income is actually $751,820, he can richly afford 
to say so. 

Yet this is a point where we prefer to turn from the 
question of money and follow Mr. Mason in his replies 
to such questions as the interviewer afterward asks : 
'*How does the poetry business compare with the 
grocery business? Would you advise a young man 
ambitious for a career to take up poetry? Has the 
present-day poet any other mission than making 
money ? Are poets born or made ? What do the people 
want ? Do you expect to make poetry your life work?" 

From his response to the first of these demands, we 
think that the large, affectionate following which Mr. 



4o8 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Mason's verse has won him throughout this fair land 
of ours will be sorry to learn that he does not expect 
to make poetry his life work, but hopes some day "to 
own a covered wagon and travel over the country 
trading horses. When I have earned enough to buy a 
string of ponies," he said, "I expect to send my lyre to 
the junk-man." This reply may represent the ex- 
haustion of the over-interviewed rather than the real 
intention of our beloved laureate ; but it is important to 
know that he believes versing a better business than 
grocering, so to speak. "I have no bad customers/' he 
says; "and I don't have to stand and argue for three 
hours to sell forty cents' worth of goods." An editor, 
when Mr. Mason sends him a poem, "doesn't insinuate 
that I am giving short weight or that my poetry con- 
tains benzoate of soda." Yet he is not quite ready to 
advise any one to take up poetry as a career. "If I had 
a stepson who suffered for a career, I would advise him 
to secure a patent right on some good washing-machine. 
I wrote poetry for twenty years before I made any 
money at all out of it, and when moderate success did 
come, I was too old and feeble to enjoy blowing in the 
money as money should be blown. ... If an able- 
bodied man would sell poetry now he must write poetry 
that the tired business man can understand at one 
reading," Mr. Mason says; and he sa)rs in answer to 
the crucial inquiry, "What do the people want?" 
"They want poetry easy to read ; poetry with a jingle 
in it; poetry that treats of the things and conditions 
that they are familiar with, and they want their poetry 
clean and wholesome." And this is exactly what Mr. 
Mason's own poetry is and does, and has been and done 
since it began. Horse Sense, no more and no less, 
responds to this long- felt want in the average American 
than the firstlings of Mr. Mason*s Muse, which we hope 



THE COMIC POETS 409 

IS not a disrespectful way of putting it. In answer to 
the question whether the present-day poet has any other 
mission than making money, he declares "that the 
modern newspaper poets are doing more to brighten 
the world and make it a good place to live in than all 
the extinct poets in the Hall of Fame or Westminster 
Abbey ever did. The poet certainly has a mission, and 
he will go ahead mishing whether the returns are large 
or small." As to whether the poet is born or made, 
he holds that he is "Both," and he goes on : "Unless 
one is born with a poet's ear he will never produce 
good lines, but if he has that equipment he has to be 
whipped into shape before he can accomplish anything, 
and the whipping process means travail of spirit and 
great bitterness; yet all this training is necessary to 
him if he would make good use of his gift." 

Here we have the whole matter in a nutshell; true, 
a cocoanut nutshell in size, but full of the milk which 
somehow gets into the cocoanut, and is one with that 
of human kindness, as Shakespeare (or "Bill," as Mr. 
Mason calls him) calls it. Music, light, heart, horse 
sense — these are the vital elements of verse and arc 
the component parts of the best modem poetry. Their 
blend cannot be too richly paid, whatever the publishers 
may grudgingly hold, and we never shall cease to 
rejoice if Mr. Mason cams $751,820 a year by his 
particular brand of it. 

It is notable that Walt Mason was originally bora in 
Canada, although he was undoubtedly reborn in Kansas 
— not an uncommon thing to happen. Indeed, it would 
seem as if Kansas was a special state set apart for 
Americans born elsewhere to be reborn in. The kind 
of inspiration that Kansas has on tap comes even more 



410 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

readily to those that move there than to those that are 
born there. The business of Kansas is to stimulate 
human beings to renewed efforts. Walt Mason's muse 
seems to be immortal. He was bom in 1862, and is 
still as youthful as when Kansas gave him re-birth. 

Another so-called syndicate poet is James J. Mon- 
tague, whose fame as a humorist is well nigh equal 
to his fame as a comic poet. Indeed, one hesitates in 
which class to place him, but, after deliberation, 1 think 
his metrical qualities outweigh his more sober prac- 
tical prose self. He writes me that he was bom in 
Iowa and that, beyond this fact, there are no impor- 
tant events in his life. He has, he declares, been guilty 
of only one book, the name of which is "More Truth 
Than Poetry,'' and that he has been a managing editor 
and has lived in California, Oregon, Missouri and New 
York. Mr. Montague has so many qualities that it 
would be difficult to analyze them all, but, in the main 
perhaps, it is sufficient to say that his work is charac- 
terized by hard sense plus astonishing riming 
technique, which enable him, perhaps above any of his 
contemporaries, to maintain a constant level of highly 
humorous verse. Nothing that he writes, that I have 
seen, has been poor; almost all of it is so g^ood that 
he is a constant marvel, especially when it is considered 
that he writes a poem every day. Back of his pen, he 
has integrity and accurate information. His satire is 
never biting, but always effective and sanitary. Take 
at random an example of his comment on the contro- 
versy raging about evolution. It will be recalled that 
Mr. Bryan had many things to say on this subject, and 



THE COMIC POETS 411 

provoked much criticism from the intellectuals. Note 
that Mr. Montague disposes of Mr. Bryan in a wholly 
kindly, but none the less thoroughly efficient manner : 

*T wanted my descendants 

To be bullfrogs/' said the newt. 

"A frog has independence, 

He's crafty and astute. 

He needn't dwell forever 

In one unending groove — 

But Mr. Bryan never 

Would approve. 

"The families I've founded," 
Observed the jellyfish, 
*T hoped might be surrounded 
By all a fish could wish. 
But there is no use tryin' 
To give the kids a lift — 
For William Jennings Bryan 
Would be miffed." 

"I haven't the ambition," 
The wombat used to whine, 
"To better the condition 
Of progeny of mine. 
My soul it much embitters 
To think they have no chano 
But Bryan says us critters 
Can't advance." 

And so these timid creatures 
Emotionless and mute 
Retained their ancient features 
And didn't evolute. 



412 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

The newt might be a lion, 
The jellyfish a trout — 
But William Jemiings Bryan 
Scared 'em out ! 

Mr. Montague, it will be seen, has the true a 
touch. His sympathies are universal, and being 
he may easily use himself as a medium in whici 
express his universality, as witness: 



RENDERING A REASON 

Although there is no end of cash 

In writing screen scenarios 
(Which are unmitigated trash, 

As every movie author knows). 
Could I, think you, demean mysel£ 

To make the future more secure. 
By writing things like this for pdif ? 

Why, sure! 

Although I know full well it pays 

To scrap one's literary art 
And write the sort of sugary plays 

That move the honest low-brow's heart. 
Could I produce this sort of thing. 

Though well assured it wasn't good. 
For all the wealth that it might bring? 

I could ! 

Although there's coin in writing books 
Which are not trye to life a bit. 

In which detectives hunt down crooks 
By using superhuman wit, 



THE COMIC POETS 413 

Could I be made to use my pen 

For all the money it would get 
In faking such unheard-of men? 

You bet ! 

I do not write scenarios ; 

I do not fashion sugary plays, 
Nor do I pen ecstatic prose 

In any smart detective's praise. 
It's not my art that gives me pause, 

It's not that I am adamant 
Against poor stuff; it's just because 

I can't! 

If it be asked who writes the most accomplished 
verse at present, I think the palm would be awarded 
by the majority to Arthur Guiterman, although New- 
man Levy and Nate Salsbury, both newcomers, have 
extraordinary metrical charm. Asking Guiterman 
upon one occasion how it was that his work was so 
uniformly good, he replied that he had never written 
anything of which he himself did not approve, and that 
he had never attempted to write beyond his means. 
Would that his example were followed by many others ! 
It was he that originated the book review in rime, 
and his "Rhymed Reviews" have for many years been 
one of the features of Life. Here is an example of 
his verse, taken at random from his book "The Mirth- 
ful Lyre": 

The Savage 

The savage has the best of it 
In Africa or west of it ! 

Whatever meat 

He finds to eat 
His stomach can digest of it. 



414 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

His conscience isn't troublesome ; 
Of joy he has a double sum : 

Unvcxed by frills 

And social ills 
His mirth is free and bubblesome. 



No business ever hurries him; 
And when a varlet worries him 

He takes a club 

And smacks the cub 
Then fricasees or curries him. 

His fancy weaves him airy tales 
Of monkey- folk with hairy tails; 

He never saw 

A play by Shaw 
Nor read Dunsany's fairy tales. 

The Savage has the best of it; 
The world — he is possessed of it! 

He loves and loafs 

And laughs at oafs 
Like us, who spoil the rest of it. 

I want my wisdom frivolized. 
My faith and creed unsnivelized. 

And life a sort 

Of sport — in short 
I wish I wasn't civilized ! 

Among the very best of our newspaper poets is Tom 
Daly whose Italian poems are many of them classics. 

He writes as follows : 



THE COMIC POETS 415 

I am asked to confess how and when I began to 
be-er- funny; how I got that way. With apologies 
to Locker-Lampson I might say : 

I recollect ere I could creep 

I tumbled from my trundle bed 

I landed in a little heap 

Upon my elbows and my head. 

I shook with mirth in every section 

Thinks I "Ochone ! 

I seem to be all funny bone" 

And that's my earliest recollection. 

Later, with much labor, I dug out of my cranial 
bone thousands of jokes, which I exchanged for money; 
not much money to be sure, but probably more than 
they were worth. I did this first for the Philadelphia 
Record, because the city editor who was my boss at 
the time, asked me to do it. Then when I became gen- 
eral manager of the Catholic Standard and Times I 
started a little column in that paper of my own free 
will, for the double purpose of taking my mind oflf 
my business cares and of getting the paper quoted for 
its original humor. Both purposes were achieved. 

My funniest quip? It's hard to pick e pluribus 
unum, but this, at which many have smiled, may be it : 

The Tides of Love 
* * * 

Flo was fond of Ebenezer 

"Eb," for short, she called her beau 

Talk of tides of love — Great Caesar ! 
You should see them "Eb" and "Flo." 

But I know better. Tm sure the funniest thing I 
2ver wrote, was perpetrated while my amateur stand- 



4i6 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

ing was inviolate. It was unconscious humor, ac-f 
it proved to be inimitable, a thing that cannot be saic 
of later, and deliberately professional efforts. I v^-as « 
clerk at the time in the business office of the Recori 
In those days, when the proletariat screwed up its cour- 
age to ask for a raise in wages, it invariably consulted 
the complete letter writer. But I was ignorant of thi> 
So, in breathless interval of a busy day, I stole on^ 
sixtieth of an office hour to write : 

Mr. James S, Mc Cartney, Treasurer. 
Dear Mr. Mc Cartney: 

I have an idea that I am worth more to the Recori 
than six dollars a week. Has that idea ever struck you: 

Respectfully yours, 

T. A. Daly. 

The next morning I was called to the front, and 
Mr. Mc Cartney handed my letter back to me. But 
at the bottom of it he had written : 

"It's a good idea, and worth a dollar a week/' 

The humor of it, the good intentional humor was ill 
his, and it cost the Record $52 a year. I got a good 
smile out of it, and so did the chief clerk and one or 
two of the others to whom I showed it. A week or 
so later Mr. Mc Cartney called me to the front again. 

'That letter of yours," he said, "did you show it to 
anybody?" 

"Why, yes," I stammered, "I thought what you 
wrote was funny." 

He handed me a letter sheet upon which was written 
in the neat penmanship of a brother' clerk : 



ui THE COMIC POETS 417 

is Mr. James S. Mc Cartney, Treasurer. 

s Dear Mr. Mc Cartney: 

I I have an icfea that I am worth more to the Record 

i than six dollars a week. Has that idea ever struck 

: you? 

Respectfully, 

Morris H. Canary. 

Not knowing quite what to say I looked at the boss 
quizzically. He shook his head, and taking the letter 
from my hand, dropped it into the waste paper basket. 
For once my writing was inimitable. 

The number of our really accom{dished lighter 
versifiers is much greater than appears. In the be- 
ginning, I suspect that they have been largely inspired 
by the work of Eugene Field, who undoubtedly created 
a school. It would be impossible in a book of this 
kind, intended more particularly for the writers of 
prose, to give extended notices to each one of our 
lighter poets. Among them may be mentioned Clinton 
Scollard, whose graceful lines for so many years have 
adorned the pages of Life and other periodicals, Jennie 
Betts Hartswick, Theodosia Garrison, Charlotte Becker, 
J. W. Foley, S. W. Gillilan and S. E. Kiser.* 

* The writings of Arthur Guiterman, Tom Daly, Theodosia 
Garrison and a number of other humorous poets are also dis- 
cussed in the third and revised (1922) edition of "Our Poets of 
To-day," volume 2, in The American Writers series by Howard 
Willard Cook. 



CHAPTER XXXVIII 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 



IF the really good humorist is rare, consider how 
much rarer is the comic artist. It would seem as 
if no country could raise more than two or three 
at a time. The best one in England at present is 
H. M. Bateman. Probably the best one in this countiy 
is T. S. SuUivant, whose drawings of animals have for 
so many years appeared in Life, And then again* Mr. 
SuUivant is an Englishman, just as the versatile Oliver 
Herford is an Englishman. 

As a rule, those that begin life with a talent for 
drawing lack ideas ; or at least their knowledge of life 
in general is too meager. Thus the satirist is almost 
if not invariably, a mature person. He has first 
informed himself, and has then pondered upon his 
information. He is thereupon struck with the absurditr 
of the whole affair that we term "Elxistence," and turns 
his experience into ridicule. All this naturally takes 
time; one may not be, either an artist, or a satirist 
over night. 

It seems to be essential that an artist, to be success- 
ful, must have ideas, whereas anybody can writi. 
Perhaps this accounts for the scarcity of artists, that 
is, of artists with a genuine sense of comedy. On the 

418 



1 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 419 

other hand, there are any number of artists who, with 
a moderate sense of fun, manage to grind out a vast 
quantity of slap-stick pictorial humor, the recipe for 
which appears to have been reduced to a science. The 
formula is to develop a set of characters, usually two, 
and to carry them through a series of adventures, most 
of these exceedingly dull, for the reason that the artist 
is obliged to turn out a new adventure every day. One 
artist of this school confided to me that he discovered 
a method whereby he could draw the whole weekly 
series in one day, thus leaving the week free for other 
matters. The so-called "strips'* are then sent out to 
a belt line of newspapers, and appear daily. They are 
generally prepared weeks in advance. There is a con- 
stant demand for new characters, and a constant failure 
to supply the demand. Many years ago, when Mr. 
Bennett ran the New York Herald, Foxy Grandpa 
and his adventures occupied the attention of vast num- 
bers of children. Many of those children thus in- 
fluenced are now, doubtless, taking their share of 
responsibility in affairs. It would be curious to dis- 
cover what real influence Foxy Grandpa had over them, 
or still has over them, just as we may say to-day that 
the adventures of Mutt and Jeff may influence the 
coming generation. If any one doubts that the in- 
fluence of pictures is not great, let him consider their 
effect. There can be no doubt that the drawings of 
Charles Dana Gibson changed quite radically the gait 
and carriage of the girl of his period, just as the 
movies have had their effect upon the flapper of to-day. 
**Art," says Vivian, in Oscar Wilde's "Decay of Ly- 
ing," "begins with abstract decoration, with purely 



420 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

imaginative and pleasurable work dealing with wbz 
is real and nonexistent. This is the first stage. Tlia 
Life becomes fascinated with this new^ wonder, and 
asks to be admitted into the charmed circle. Art take 
Life as part of her rough material, recreates it. and 
refashions it in fresh forms, is absolutely indiifem 
to fact, invents, imagines, dreams, and keeps betweo! 
herself and reality the impenetrable barrier of beautital 
style, of decorative or ideal treatment. The third sta?« 
is when Life gets the upper hand, and drives Art out 
into the wilderness. That is true decadence, and it 
is from this we are now suffering." 

Oscar Wilde wrote these words some years ago, tat 
they arc more true now than ever, and they arc true 
here in America than in England. From this it ougk 
to be evident to the simplest mind among^ us that any 
man that has talent — that is, any kind of creative talent 
— is taking on an enormous responsibility when, for 
the mere sake of making a great deal of money, be 
invents characters that, becoming fixed in the pabbc 
mind, really affect the public, both mentally and 
physically. The artist must have his ideal dearir 
before him ; it must be something better than he himsdt 
is. The temptation of the comic artist is ever to 
degrade human nature by catering to the lowest ck- 
ment in us, which is our enjoyment of the mis- 
fortunes of others. To me characters like Mutt and 
Jeff are more pathetic than amusing, and I never see 
them without a shudder. One may well ask howevtr. 
whether it is possible to amuse without exaggeration, 
and, in reply, I feel tempted to paraphrase what Field- 
ing has said about burlesque, in the preface to JosqA 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 421 

» Andrews — that he had discovered that it was only 
• necessary to portray men as they are in order to make 
i them ridiculous. 

Thus, Mr. Robert Dickey, unquestionably one of the 
: best dog artists in America, told me that he resolutely 
; set his face against caricaturing dogs; that he dis- 
covered, by keeping as accurately as possible to nature, 
that he could produce the most comic effect. The 
result bears out his contention, and he has made a 
permanent contribution to Art by keeping true to his 
ideal. 

We must, however, begin to temporize almost im- 
mediately, because, just as exaggeration in humorous 
writing is essential to produce certain effects, so it is 
in drawing. It depends altogether on how the thing 
is done. Mr. SuHivant's animals, for example, are 
grossly exaggerated — it is their very nature and essence 
to be thus exaggerated; one expects it of them. A 
Sullivant hippo is a sublime being, only, in this instance, 
the artist, instead of degrading, has produced an 
entirely new gallery of animal portraits — one might 
even say that he has succeeded in investing them all 
with the very spirit of Falstaff. Their incredible 
virility constantly fills us with awe. 

When we turn to the drawings of A. B. Frost, we 
discover, at once, quite another quality. Mr. Frost, 
above all things, is American in his treatment; one 
gets from his work no suggestion of any foreign 
school. His calves are American calves, such delight- 
ful, rollicking creatures that the mere thought of them 
sends one into thrills of delight. His fidelity to nature 



422 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

is again in evidence. He does not depart from tnri. 
yet how admirably he does it ! 

What is recognizable in the work of Mr. Gbsoc 
Mr. Frost and also Frederic Remington (long sine 
passed away, and, in no sense, a comic artist) is th; 
native quality of their genius. Latterly, there has ere? 
in among us, perhaps I should say there has flaunted z 
among us, the Vanity Fair school of art, smart to the 
last degree, without the slightest native appeal, be 
nevertheless valuable in the lesson it teaches and in b 
admirable technique. I have no quarrel with this scr 
of thing, so long as it is healthy; much of it no dou'it 
is unhealthy, but we can stand a good deal even of th: 
if it is well executed. The main trouble with us hcr^ 
tofore is that nothing among us has been well execute: 
except our business deals and the people we lynch 
The British critics shout with applause w^henever any- 
thing American that is sufficiently raw conies axnon; 
them. They welcome our vulgarities — ^which is £ 
very well — ^but we must not forget that to learn ho* 
to do anything well has so far been quite be3rond ffi. 
For instance, take the matter of clothes. You wil 
notice, if you happen to wear what is known as i 
custom-made suit, that the button holes in the slecw 
are false — that is, you cannot unbutton them. But i: 
your coat is made by a first-class tailor, you will noiict 
that the button holes are real— that is, they can actua!!} 
be unbuttoned. Our best tailors, in other words 
have taken their cue from Great Britain. America te 
an enormous amount of raw material in art and litera- 
ture, but our technique is rotten, and the reason why i: 
is rotten is that we have never had time to perfect 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 423 

it. We have always been in a hurry. Therefore, we 
should not despise the lessons in doing things well 
that come to us from abroad; we should take them to 
heart, and learn from them that attention to detail so 
necessary to produce masterpieces. Everybody is an 
unconscious plagiarist. It is quite easy for example 
to despise Editors like Mr. Frank Crowninshield of 
Vanity Fair, and to say that he belongs to a limited 
circle of decadents. But that is nonsense. In his own 
manner, he has done good ; he has made a lot of people 
very particular; he has created a school of artists and 
writers who care how they do a thing, and that is 
important. The substance rarely matters anyway. 
Personally, if I get him rightly, he is concerned almost 
entirely with the technique of his job. He has taste. 
I would much rather trust this job to him than to Mr. 
H. L. Mencken — who perhaps is too anxious for it. 

It is to men like Mr. Crowninshield, Mr. Gibson and 
to many other editors and proprietors of papers and 
periodicals that our comic artists look for their sus- 
tenance, and therefore these men have a double 
responsibility. Recall the point I have been making, 
namely, that the creative mind is rare; that when it 
does create, it creates things that sway whole masses 
of humanity; that a single picture may change the 
physique of a people. Bear this in mind, and you will 
see that these gentlemen must not only support and 
develop our comic artists, but must help them to develop 
themselves in the right way ; must offer them a proper 
medium for their wares; must give them the right 
setting. 



424 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

In doing this, it would be a mistake to be too finidj. 
to be too fearful of consequences. Above all, one racs 
have freedom. The comic supplements axe not so lac 
Foxy Grandpa and Buster Brown probably helped i 
lot. It is necessary to have people rough things « 
for us as we go along, and so I say, let us have any- 
thing at all so long as it is well done — ^and it is undeni- 
able that things are being much better done than thr 
were. The number of our comic artists who are doiar 
their work supremely well is constantly on the increase. 
I would invite the reader who is at all interested c 
pictures to look at this work, as it is spread out tcr 
him in our periodical literature, with a more critici 
eye: he will discover in it things that he neitr 
suspected. It has always seemed to me a crying shan 
that a drawing, over which the artist toiled, and whid 
for technique and general excellence, is perhaps te 
high-water mark, should be almost ruined in the pla!^ 
making and printing, and then be glanced at hurriedh 
and thrown carelessly aside by thousands of peop 
who have not the remotest idea of the long years c: 
work the artist put in to perfect his technique. 

I trust that the average reader, if there be sndi* 
person, will not think me a bore if I insist upon b 
using more discrimination hereafter in his observatia 
of pictures. The pleasure that one derives from « 
growing capacity to know good pictures, when seea 
is something scarcely to be measured until one htf 
made progress, and it fortunately happens that it l^ 
quires little time. Spread out before us every diy 
are a great variety of pictures, the majority of the* 



r OUR COMIC ARTISTS 425 

J- very bad, but a few worth while. Let one study the 

2_cc«nic artists and discover their particular merits. 

.. Perhaps our best cartoonist is Rollin Kirby of the 

^New York World, but Mr. Darling of the Tribune 

(**Ding'') has his own high merit To compare the 

. two would be wrong; each belongs to a different 

. school. Among the purely humorous artists, there 

are James Montgomery Flagg, whose versatility is a 

constant matter of surprise, and whose talent is 

almost equal to his enormous conceit, although one 

vs bound to admit that this, like the reports of Mark 

Twain's death, has been exaggerated. One of the 

best artists, considered for his technical merits or his 

sense of humor, is Rea Irvin. His flow of genuine 

himior seems endless, and he has the merit of 

never, under any circumstances, being commonplace or 

tiresome. Then there are Ralph Barton, Gluyas 

Williams, John Held, Jr., Ellison Hoover, Herb Roth, 

T. S. Shaver, and a host of others. 

The one who did more for comic art in America 
than any other man was John Ames Mitchell, the 
founder of Life. When Mr. Mitchell started Life 
in 1883, our comic artists could be counted on the 
fingers of one hand. He himself, an artist of great 
originality (I think his cupids still hold their own), 
drew for Life, made its cover, and did some of its 
best early cartoons. His astonishing quality of attract- 
ing to himself all kinds of talent, and then of making 
that talent better, enabled him during the period that 
he edited Life, literally to create a school of comic 
artists, and, through his paper, to support them so 



426 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

that the habit of looking at humorous pictures bccaa 



more or less of a public necessity. Without his qmc 
influence and his astonishing capacities as an etUtor 
many of the men who have made great reputado:: 
would not be here to tell the tale. He made comic ar 
in America stand on its feet. 

Comic Artists 

Herewith is given a representative list of the prioqi 
newspaper comic artists of this country, tog^her 
with features that are syndicated. 









Gene Byrnes, "Regular Fellers 

H. A. MacGill, "Percy and Ferdie 

Stanley McGovern, "Dumbell Dan 

Marion Farley, **Mrs. Contrary" 

Percy L. Crosby, "Crosby's cartoons" 

Jack Wilson, "Radio Ralf " 

Clare V. Dwiggins, "School Days," "Ophel 

*Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn 
Harry J. Westerman, "Sketches from Life 
C. W. Kahles, "Hairbreadth Harry" 
Lang Campbell, "Uncle Wiggily's Adventures' 
Arch. Dale, "The Doo Dads" 
Dudley T. Fisher, Jr., "Jolly Jingles" 
Chas. P. Plumb, "When I Was a Kid, I Thought- 
Frank Wing, "Back Yonder" 
Walter Bradford, "Radioitis" 
Richard Cutler, "Among Us Mortals" 
Jim Barnes, "Weekly Golf Lesson" 
Claire A. Briggs, "Mr. and Mrs.," "Among Us Mortak* 






OUR COMIC ARTISTS 427 

Thornton Burgess, "Burgess Bedtime Stories" 

Harrison Cady, "Peter Rabbit" book, "Caleb Cottontail" 

J. N. Dariing, "Ding" 

Grantland Rice, "Spotlight" and "Tales of a Wayside Tee" 

Charies Voight, "Petey" and "Betty" 

Charles Wellington, "Pa's Son-in-law" 

H. T. Webster, daily cartoons 

George Chappell, "Pastimes for Old and Young^ 

Hunger ford, "Snoodles" , 

Ad Carter, "Just Kids," "Our Friend Mush," "Mr. 

George," "Finheimer Twins" 
Ed Wheelan, "Minute Movies" 
Edwina, "Cap Stubbs" 
Wood Cowan, sport cartoons 
Francis Gallup, rural character illustrator 
J. H. Donahey, human interest and humorous cartoons 
Albertine Randall, "In Rabbitboro" 
Paul Pim, "Baby Mine" 
Hy Gage, "Gay and Glum" series 
Glyas Williams, book, "In Pawn" 
Wallace Goldsmith, "Two Boys in a Gyro Car** 
Reginald Birch, Judge Shute's books 
W. E. Hill, "Among Us Mortals" 
Martin Justice, "Rebecca" and various books 
Mrs. Lucy F. Perkins, "Twins" series 
Clara Atwood, "Bunnikins" series 
Mile Winter, "Billy Popgun" 
Maurice Day, "Book of Fables" 

Morgan Dennis, "The Real Diary of the Worst Farmer** 
E. Boyd Smith, "Noah's Ark" series 
A. I. Keller, "The Courtin' ** 
Ross, "Children's Munchausen** 
Clifford L. Sherman, The Dot Books 
Frank A. Nankivell, "The Book of Fairy Tale Bears** 



428 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Herbert Johnson, human-interest cartoon 

A. R. Momand, "Keeping Up with the Joneses'* 

L. E. O'Mealia, ''Wedlocked" 

W. J. Sinnott, "Dicky Dippy's Diar/' 

K. C. Casey, "Yesterday and Todajr" 

Billy De Beck, "Barney Google," "Bughouse Fables'* 

J. E. Murphy, "Toots & Casper" 

Rudolph Dirks, "The Katzies" 

Tom Powers, "Mrs. Trouble" and cartoons 

E. C. Segar, "Thimble Theatre," "The Five-Fifteen" 

Dok Willard, "Outta-Luck Qub" 

Russ Westover, "Tillie the Toiler" 

George McManus, "Bringing Up Father" 

Harold Knerr, "Katzenjammer Kids" 

Fred Opper, "Down on the Farm" and cartoons 

James Swinnerton, "Little Jimmy" 

Jean Knott, "Eddie's Friends" 

Walter Hoban, "Jerry on the Job" 

Harry Hershfield, "Abie the Agent," ''Kabibble Kab- 

eret" 
T. A. Dorgan, "For Better or Worse 
George Herriman, "Krazy Kat 
J. P. Amot, "How Do They Do It?" 
Tad, "Indoor Sports 
Jean Knott, "Just Like a Man 
Tom McNamara, "Us Boys 
J. P. Arnot, "The General 
Fred Faber, "Then the Fun Began 
W. G. Farr, "Embarrassing Moments** 
Hal Coffman, cartoons 
Cliff Sterrett, "Polly & Her Pals 
R. F. Outcault, "Buster Brown 
A. C. Fera, "Just Boy" 
Rube Goldberg, "Boob McNutt" 



urst" 
.razy ivat"" 
They E 

n" 



t" 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 429 

"Winsor McCay, cartoons 

3Iarry Murphy, cartoons 

O. P. Williams, cartoons 

Joe McGurk, cartoons 

IFred Locher, "Cicero Sapp" 

Hudolph Dirks, "The Captain and the Kids** 

<lus Mager, "The Hawkshaw" strip 

Maurice Ketten, "Can You Beat It?" 
Vic Forsythe, "Joe's Car" 

Bud Counihan, "The Big Little Family" 
H. M. Brinkerhoff, "Little Mary Mixup" 

Ken Kling, "Katinka" 

Gene Carr, "Metropolitan Movies" 

Milton Gross, "Help Wanted" 

JZere, "Man the Master," "Will Somebody Explain This, 
Please ?" "Ever Been Through This ?" 

R. L. Goldberg, "Fm the Guy" 

Fontaine Fox, "Toonerville Trolley," "The Powerful 
Katrinka," "The Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang" 

H. J. Tuthill, "Home, Sweet Home" 

Harold Probasco, sport comics 

E. P. Hughes, sport cartoons 

E. A. Bushnell, editorial cartoons 

John C. Terry, cartoons on Washington political life 

Frank Beck, "Gas Buggies," "Down the Road" 

Walter Berndt, "That's Different" 

Chester I. Garde, "Never, Never News' 

Mel Cummin, children's cartoons 

H Landing Smith, "Sleepy Time Tales' 

Nelson Harding, editorial cartoons 

Sidney Smith, "Gumps' 

J. P. McEvoy, "The Potters' 

Frank King, "Gasoline Alley' 

Carey Orr, "The Tiny Tribune' 



.»» 



.99 



.9f 



us XTlCUiti'" 

i" 



430 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Carl Ed, "Harold Teen" 

M. M. Branner, "Winnie Winkle, the Bread Wimw^ 

John T. McCutcheon, editorial cartoons, eta 

Gaar Williams, political cartoons 

Merril B. Blosser, "Freckles and His Friends' 

George Swanson, "Salesman Sam' 

W. E. HoUman, "Billvillc Birds' 

Gene Aheam, "Our Boarding House' 

A. D. Condo, "Everett True" 

Walter Allman, 'T)oings of the DuflFs" 

J. R. Williams, 'SDut Our Way" 

Lee W. Stanley, "The Old Home Town" and ''Gassaw 

Miles" 
R. W. Satterfield, "The Bicker Family" 
Leslie Elton, "Children's Stories in Pictures" and **Ia 

Daw's Adventures" 
Edgar Martin, "Nut Bros." 
Dorman H. Smith, political, etc, cartoons 
J. R. Grove, sport cartoons 
Louis Hanlon, "Follies of the Passii^ Show** 
Sykes, daily cartoon 
A. E. Hayward, "Somebody's Stenog" 
Geo. W. Rehse, "Children of Adam" 
Jack Collins, "That Reminds Me" 
Dunn, "And Then He Changes His MSnd/' "Dmr 

Bells" 
John Bache, "The Crossing Cop" 
Mr. W. Hanny, cartoons 
Harry O'Neill, "Us Kids" 
Frank W. Hopkins, "Noozic" The Sunshine 
A. Y. Hambleton, "Smiles" 
Al Posen, "Them Days Is Gone Forever^ 
H. M. Talburt, "Casey the Cop" 
Vance De Bar Colvig, "Life On the Radio Waw** 



OUR COMIC ARTISTS 431 

Johnny Gruelle, "The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and 

Ra^edy Andy*' 
Bud Fisher * 
C. Frueh f 

"^ Mr. Fisher is probably the most successful syndicate artist in 
the country. 

t Mr. Frueh does work almost exclusively for the New York 
World. He ranks very high. 



CHAPTER XXXIX 

HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 

BY T. U M. 

]L MY friend John M. Siddall asked me to gm 
l^r I "^^ experience as a joke writer. I wrote out 
^ what I thought was an interesting story and 

it was printed in the American Magasine just as it is 
given here. 

During the past twenty years I have written over 
fifty thousand jokes, averaging fifty a week, although, 
of late years, I usually write them in batches of one 
hundred every two weeks. Of these I have sold seventr 
per cent, at an average of one dollar each. The total 
amount received during this period has been ovtr 
$35>ooo, or an average income of $1,700 a year. This 
has meant about two hours' work a week. 

Jokes sell all the way from twenty-five cents op to 
$5 each. In some cases, where they serve as a basis for 
a picture by some well-known artist, they command 
higher prices, the artist giving as high as twenty-five 
per cent of the selling price of the completed drawing. 
Many jokes by themselves would be unsatlablCp requiring 
to be illustrated in order to bring out the situatiob 
For example, there is a "he and she" jdce : 

433 



HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 433 

He : "Don't you think Fd better tell your father of 
our engagement?" 

She : "No, darling. You will need all your strength 
for the wedding ceremony." ^ 

There's a joke which obviously depends upon the 
contrast between a dominant girl and her undersized 
lover. It is a case where you must literally see the 
point in order to get it. 

Some people really do "see a joke" better than others 
do, because they have the kind of imagination that 
visualizes characters and incidents. They get a mental 
picture of the thing. But most folks are helped by a 
good picture. Your own personal experience is another 
factor. For example, an invalid is keener to relish 
jokes on doctors, etc., than people who are never 
sick. 

Before I actually began to write jokes I studied the 
subject for about two years. After I got started I 
had no trouble, except that my output was limited 
and my range of subjects naturally restricted by my 
experience. In the beginning, I could never write more 
than fifteen or twenty jokes a day, and it took me 
nearly all day to do this. 

I remember distinctly the first day that I wrote 
thirty-five jokes! I went to bed that night with a 
feeling that I had reached high-water mark. But one 
day, a year or so later, I turned out fifty-three jokes; 
and since then I have frequently written a hundred in 
a single day. It is comparatively easy for me now to 
write sixty jokes in two hours; but naturally there has 
to be a preliminary period of preparation. For a num- 
ber of years, when I lived in a suburban town, I wrote 
twenty jokes a day on the train, ten going and ten 
coming, for three or four days each week. And I 



434 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

averaged in income from this alone about twcntt 
dollars a week, even though the rates were lower in 
those days than at present. 

A joice is almost always a dialogue between tvo 
characters. And there are just two ways of writin? 
it. The first way is to get an idea that is worth joking 
about, and then to have two characters make the job. 
The second way is to have some character say soot- 
thing, and then get another character to reply in such a 
way that the joke is made. You see how easy it is. 

After the joke is made, you put it aside for twcntj- 
four hours and subject it to a joke-testing machine 
which every joke m^er has carefully concealed aboic 
his person, to see if it is kind and sound in wind and 
limb. If it doesn't measure up, it is overhauled and 
again tested ; or it is destroyed. Great care must be 
taken, however, because oftentimes a joke that does 
not pass the original censor is really salable, depending 
largely upon the mood of the editor who reads it 

If we select the first method of joke making— diat 
of starting with the idea — ^it is convenient to lutve oo 
hand a list of subjects. You can arrange them is 
groups, and then divide them into minor subjects. 
Take the general subject of sport. Under sport we 
have baseball, tennis, golf, football, etc. Or, take a 
subject that is more likely to be subject to changing 
conditions, as politics. Under politics we may groof 
all the questions of the day. Or, take society. Here 
we have society queens — ^if there be any left— dinners 
dances, style, an almost endless variety. Suppose wt 
narrow this down a bit, and hit upon some social foifak 
that needs exploiting. At the moment I cannot think oi 
a single thing, but that is only because it happens that I 
am not particularly depressed ; and to write jokes rap- 
idly one should have a fit of depression immediately pre- 



r HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 433 

::: ceding. The ideal condition is one of settled melancholy. 

- What has happened recently to people who move in 
alleged good society? Well, they have been more or 

I less pinched, strange as that may seem to those who do 
not move in good society. That, of course, is the 

- beauty about my system. As long as you have the 
: architecture of a joke firmly fixed in your mind, even 

if it dates back to ancient Egypt, new conditions are 
always arising to which the old form can be adjusted. 

We have then a society woman and a society man. 
They are married — ^something which society people are 
supposed to do often, if not always too well. The 
woman is a nice woman, but she is a bit spoiled. The 
man is a nice man, but a bit cynicaL The joke has got 
to be about something connected with the new thought 
of being hard-up for money. Nothing is therefore 
easier than to evolve the following : 

Mrs. Vanderpile: "What! Aren't you glad that 
our butler has given up his work in the ammunition 
factory and is coming back to us?" 

Vanderpile : "But, my dear, he has grown so stout 
that I am afraid I won't be able to wear his old 
clothes.'* 

You see, the element of contrast is all-important. 
One of the accepted rules is to take a statement that 
any one would naturally make, and simply reverse it, 
which brings me to the second method. This is to 
begin boldly with a set of characters, have one of them 
say some commonplace thing, and then have the other 
reply in such a way that the truth contained in the first 
statement is completely reversed. Any theme will do ; 
but for purposes of illustration let us take love. Love 
jokes are always in order. It is necessary only to give 
them a new setting. 



436 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

This is the easiest form of joke, because the char- 
acters are so well known that they need no explanation. 
They are always he's and she's. 

She : ''Do you really believe that, when we arc ck- 
prived of something, a better thing conies in to take its 
place?" 

He : "I firmly do. For example, I notice that your 
sofa has gone, but, in its place, is an arm chair." 

Since Adam and Eve, two people in all stages of 
love have held alleged conversation which either sati- 
rized some social condition, or brought into play the 
relationship of the sexes. The most fundamental 
declaration is the statement, "I love you," on the part 
of the man. But this statement is varied so that the 
reply of the lady may carry the surprise. A modern 
application would be something like this : 

He: "Darling, shall I bring home two or three 
rings for you to select from ?" 

She : "Why, yes, dear. But I am sure it will not 
be necessary for me to make any selection. I just know 

I shall like all of them !" 

Or the joke may be something to the effect that a 
gentleman who is in love with a lady, being more or 
less self-conscious, may wish to have some further 
proof of her love, as in this one: 

He: "Be perfectly frank, darling; doesn't my con- 
stant love-making bore you?" 

She: "Dreadfully." 
Then you really don't love me?" 
'Why, if I didn't love you I couldn't stand iL" 






: HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 437 

a The joke writer has but to keep fairly well informed 

. about what is going on in order to get the new twist 
he needs. Take recent events. The income tax has 
inspired so many jokes that they have helped the joke 

. writer materially in paying his own share. Here is 

- one that comes in this line: 

"Don't you think the American people ought to sup- 
'. port the President ?*' 

"Why, possibly, if they have enough money left." 

Of course, as soon as the late Kaiser abdicated, this 
released a whole flood of new ideas. It was necessary 
only to tack these ideas onto some old form. Almost 
immediately abdication jokes began to flow into editors' 
sanctums, the most obvious being that of the abdica- 
tion of the cook. This lady, indeed, goes through a 
constant stream of experiences. She is popularly sup- 
posed to rule the household; to be continually leaving; 
to play the piano in odd moments ; to be on secret and 
humanely sympathetic terms with the suppressed hus- 
band. 

As for the husband and father, he has the ordinary 
chameleon beaten to a frazzle. He is a tired business 
man ; he is supposed to be making constant love to his 
stenographer ; to be always coming home late at night ; 
to be worn out with his wife's efforts to drag him into 
society. If he lives in the suburbs, he is loaded down 
with bundles. The only real opportunity he has to 
assert himself is in his relationship to his daughter's 
lovers. He is always lying in wait for these lovers, 
who, when they are not sneaking in and out of the 
house, evading as best they can the bulldog that the 
father keeps on the premises for defensive and offensive 
purposes, are interviewing him in his office. 



438 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

The perennial small brother is also made to do con- 
stant work in this connection, generally from a point 
of concealment, as illustrated in the following: 

He: "Darling, do you think your father can hear 
me kiss you?" 
Voice (from under the sofa) : "He's used to itf 

In this familiar setting poor father is constantly 
asking the lovers if they can support his daughter in 
the style to which she has been accustomed, and they 
are replying in all the ways that the ingenuity of the 
accomplished joke writer can invent. As the kaleido- 
scope of social conditions changes — by the advent of 
the movies, for instance, or by a war — then the husband 
and father takes on new aspects, and the joke writer 
rejoices. The income tax, the high cost of living, the 
abandonment by large numbers of wives of a large 
part of their household duties in order to get into war 
work — ^all these things, and many more, put new lite 
into the husband and father joke. 

As for women, there is scarcely any change in social 
conditions that does not increase their total joke-pro- 
ducing power. One of the situations that netted 
large returns to the joke writer was the number of 
our boys who, with their sweethearts left behind them. 
had come under the lure of the French girl, and returned 
home with a choice collection of French love words, 
to the consternation of the American girl. 

It will readily be seen, from what I have written. 
that joke writing is a trade that can be learned by 
any person of ordinary intelligence who has industry 
and application. The first thing necessary is to learn 
the old characters. Even though they are no longer 
received in the best joke-writing circles it is well to 
know something about the great work they have done 



HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 439 

in the past. The mother-in-law, it would seem, has 
out run. her usefulness, and been laid gently to rest. 
Her career has been a long and distinguished one. 
She was preserved for us in an ancient Egyptian 
papyrus, some four thousand years before Christ. She 
ran successfully through the Middle Ages; she was 
more or less prominent in Anglo-Saxon chronicles; 
she came over in the Mayflower; she flouri^ed in 
our history up to a comparatively recent period. But 
changing matrimonial conditions have obscured her 
activities. Doubtless at some future time she will 
once again reassert herself. 

The tramp was, for years, a good old standby, but 
he, also, has gone his way. Tte barber is used only 
sparingly. The landlady has apparently received her 
quietus. But as for the children, they are unfailing. 
As a source of revenue to the joke maker they will 
never lose their value. Most of their actual sayings — 
and these come in a constant stream into editors* offices 
— are not so amusing as they seem to the fond parents 
or relatives. However, occasionally a real gem is dis- 
covered. 

It is a fact that the best children's jokes are invented 
by writers well advanced in life, the older the better. 
A large majority of these are not plausible, because 
they put into the mouths of children remarks so mature 
that they are unnatural ; but they go because they bring 
out some phase of childish thought, as in this one : 

Bobbie: ''Mother, do you know why there is a 

Sunday-school ?" 

Mother: "Why — don't you, Bobbie?" 

Bobbie : "Oh, yes. It's to give me a chance to leam 

how to stay away, so y/hen I grow up I can get out of 

going to church, like Father." 



440 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Or this : 

Slimson : "What, Willie ! Fighting a second time 
with that new boy across the way !" 

Willie : "I had to, Dad. He came out this morning 
with another new suit." 

Then there are the jokes where the child asks the 
question and the grown-up makes the point, as in these 
two: 

"Mama, is Papa a tired business man?" 
"He would be, Bob, if I let him stay home nights 
and think about himself." 

"Mama, when I grow up can I travel?" 
"Why not ? You have the same chance as any other 
American boy of becoming President." 

A joke, in order to "get over'* with the public, must 
deal with a subject with which the public is thoroughhr 
familiar. In stage comedy it is well recognized xhdi 
the audience never tires of the man who squirts the 
contents of a seltzer bottle on another, or throws flour 
in his face, or sits down in a chair without any bottom: 
and these time-honored situations are as much a pan 
of moving picture comedy as they were in the old stage 
farce. The joke writer, therefore, who wishes to 
satirize or play up new conditions must depend upon 
the old forms, the old characters, as a basis. 

Love making is universal, so are babies, borrowing 
and lending, matrimony, business, laziness, thieving. 
stinginess, and so on. Other groups may be classed 
under the general title of "fiend'' groups. There is the 
golf fiend, the motor fiend, the fresh-air fiend, and so 
on. Still other groups are bohemians. New Thought- 
ists, high-brows, futurists and cubists, all kinds of 



HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 441 

social reformers and cranks. The congressman comes 
in for his share of joking. The stock broker does not 
get off scot-free. 

After these old characters have been fairly well 
assimilated, the joke writer is ready for business. 
What a boon the bone-dry law is to the gentlemen of 
the joke trade. What manna was in the wilderness to 
the children of Israel, so each joke writer should lift 
up his heart in gratitude over this heaven-sent source 
of profit. The vein is apparently never ending. Think 
of all the golf players coming in from the links tired 
and thirsty, and the joke possibilities of Sahara lockers 
staring them in the face ! 

Briggs (at the golf club) : "Brasston, over there, 
says that lately his mind has been so clear that after 
playing forty-eight holes of golf he cani describe 
accurately every stroke he has made." 

Griggs : "That shows the awful effects of the bone- 
dry law.'' 

After the joke- writing apprentice has learned all the 
old characters, their habits and haunts, and has mastered 
the machinery of fitting their utterances to new condi- 
tions, he is then ready to market his wares. But, first, 
he must cultivate the joke-writing atmosphere. This 
is largely a matter of inhibition on the one side and 
moral courage on the other.; As he gradually gets into 
the habit of thinking jofees, he will find himself 
occasionally saying someth|ng humorous. 

This tendency must be stfernly suppressed. No joke 
writer can afford it. JokeiS are his stock in trade. A 
haberdasher doesn't hand out a new collar, or shirt, or 
necktie, to his friends at the card table, or on the links. 
Neither does a hardware man casually present you with 



442 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

a package of carpet tacks or a new monkey wrench. 
The joke writer must remember that every time h? 
says anything funny, bing! there goes two dollars. 
It may be pleasant to have the reputation of bcir.: 
funny, but it is too expensive a pleasure for him. 

The more you can suffer, the better your jokes wi" 
be. But do not try to force the matter. Many an in- 
experienced joke writer has met with disaster becauit 
he tried to do this. He has married in haste, or dor.t 
something equally rash. It is better far to let ihi 
suffering come along quite naturally. It can generaT.y 
be relied upon. A sudden and unforeseen calamity :> 
a bonanza to a joke writer. Bill Nye once broke hi? 
leg in a railroad accident, and spoke of it afterwari^ 
with tears of joy. It had netted him a handsome pron: 

I began writing jokes for the New York Sun whcr. 
Mr. Dana was the editor. I was happy and care-fr« 
in those days, and so I did not succeed very well a: 
first. I had method, but no depth of sorrow. But or.f 
day by a gracious act of Providence, I was attacked iy 
the mumps. During the fit of melancholy thi: 
followed, and while I was lying in bed convalcscir.f 
I evolved a new form of joke. It consisted in makin: 
inanimate objects articulate, and having them convcrje 
with one another. At that time they happened to n: 
into the prevailing newspaper mood and during ir.y 
week in bed, I coined money. In six days I had wrirtr 
forty-five of these dreadful things and had recci\*e: 
forty-five dollars, which more than paid for my illnc?? 

I was then visited by a fellow joke writer— one *:: 
the secret fraternity — who had heard of my good luck. 
He saw with glistening eyes the roll of bills King or. 
my bed. and being in a weak and defenseless conditio: 
I loaned him the money. He took it away with him. 






r 



HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 443 



» intending to pay his rent. But so much sudden pros- 
^ perity carried him off his feet, and, before he could get 
' to his landlord, he had spent the princely sum in riotous 
'- living. This brought on a corresponding fit of remorse 
- and melancholy, which enabled him during the next 
few weeks, not only to make enough to pay his rent but 
: to repay the loan. 

I mention this apparently trivial circumstance, not 
'. only to show the psychology of joke-writing, but to 
uncover the fact that there is honor even among joke 
writers. 

In conclusion, I repeat that there are only two ways 
of writing jokes. One is to formulate your set of 
characters and to have them say things to one another 
born of their habits and conditions — ^which will give a 
fresh point of view to some condition to which the 
public consciousness is alive. The other way is to take 
such an idea by itself — something that excites your 
sense of satire or injustice — ^and fit it to any two char- 
acters that are best adapted to your purpose. 

Animal jokes are also a source of revenue, and can 
be turned out in great variety. Sometimes the animals 
have conversations among themselves, as in this one : 

Father Tomcat: "Maria, don't wake me up till 
sundown.'* 

Maria : "Some day you won't wake up at all if you 
keep on attending these all-night peace conferences." 

Or this one: 

The Farmerette : "Do you think I can learn how 
to milk this cow in a week?" 

The Farmer: "I hope so, miss — for the sake of 
the cow." 



444 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

As for the pun, that has gone steadily out. Buth 
has been succeeded by perhaps a smarter offspring, c 
which a slight play on words is made to illustrate son 

human frailty: 



"Birdseye is an optimist!" 
"How so?" 



"Although he has been home from the front only six 
months he is already looking forward to his back pay. 

I make no particular excuse for the qtiality of jokes 
I have here offered at random. They are not mastr- 
pieces of humor. But, then, masterpieces of humor a.^ 
very rare, as are masterpieces in other branches c: 
literature and art. These jokes are salable as the 
market goes, and serve to illustrate the mechanics o: 
this more or less lucrative business. 

After you have written, say, fifty jokes, lay thcc 
aside for a few days and look at them with a fresh eye. 
You will be surprised at the result. Many that appeared 
utterly footless when you wrote them will now sect 
good. Others over which you enthused at the momoi: 
will now seem to have mislaid their point. Then show 
them to your wife. Every joke maker should hait 
at least one wife, for varioiis reasons. The jokes thai 
she likes — ^hold back. The ones she Hdesn't like— 
send out boldly. 

Write each joke on a separate slip with your name 
and address on it. Send it first to the periodical iha: 
pays the highest rates; and so on down the list. Do 
not destroy the jokes that are rejected. Keep them 
on hand. Every once in a while an editor leaves, and 
a new victim takes his place. Your old joke may be 
— well, it may be on him. But that's his lockout 



HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 445 

After this article was published I received hundreds 
of letters from people all over the United States, asking 
me to supply them with lists of papers that bought 
jokes. The fact is, of course, that this is one of the 
most difficult things to do. There are a number of 
trade papers, and also a number of newspapers that 
buy jokes, but the man that writes them usually knows 
the market for them by the time he learns how to 
write them — if he ever does. 

Almost every man that starts out to write jokes dis- 
covers in the course of time, that he can string out his 
idea and get a great deal more money for it as a story 
or a sketch. That is why there are so few good joke 
writers. 

The best joke writers in the country are undoubtedly 
Arthur Crawford of New York, George Westley of 
the Boston Transcript, Lauren S. Hamilton of New 
York State and Miss McLandburgh Wilson, who writes 
of herself as follows: 

I was born in Chicago in 1877 and began by being 
a joke on my parents, who had only a boy's name 
ready. I found the world a pretty good place until 
the age of fifteen, when I felt impelled to start a paper 
of my own. This was called the Wilson Weekly Wit 
and boasted nineteen paid subscribers. Its hekto- 
graphed pages contained a few observations on the 
world at large, and many intimate reprisals on the 
members of the family who had incurred my wrath 
during the week. These interesting personals were 
soon eliminated, and before long I was selling the con- 
tents of my paper on the outside and fairly launched 
on my career of crime. 



446 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

Since that far day I shudder to think of the thou- 
sands of Knicker — Bocker jokes and verses for whkfc 
I am responsible. Perhaps one of the best known is 
the "Doughnut": 

Twixt optimist and pessimist 

The difference is droll ; 
The optimist sees the doughnut. 

The pessimist sees the hole. 

That was cooked over twenty years ago and is sti! 
floating around and digestible. A new vein uncovered 
was the "Unrecorded History" style of jcke — a thou- 
sand of these sold right off the bat and, after that, i 
lost count. 

In 191 7 the Macmillan Company published my book 
of war verse "The Little Flag on Main Street," fron: 
which 1 quote: 

Rheims Cathedral 

Long centuries ago a holy man 

Sang out his soul in ecstasy to God; 
So sweet the rapture of the music ran 

An angel froze it to the hallowed sod. 
Love, faith and worship all took form on high 
And Rheims Cathedral towered to the sky. 

It stood through all the ages of mischance. 

Knew kings and peasants, lords and ladies fair; 

It looked upon the sainted Maid of France, 
And sinners found a sanctuary there. 

So for the sake of His most holy name 

The ancient vandals spared it from the flame. 



J HOW I WROTE 50,000 JOKES 447 

ifj Then came the Germans with the breath of hell, 
ji The walls were melted and the music fled, 
j; For all the beauty that men loved so well 

The Demon's discord pierced the air instead, 
And what was once a prayer to God's far Throne 
Stands now an awful blasphemy in stone. 

This, in my opinion, is the best thing I have done. It 
wasn't considered sufficiently neutral when it was 
written, so it went to the London Bookman, where it 
took a prize. My avocation is writing serious verse 

^ and buying stocks at the top of the market ; this com- 

' pels my vocation to be htunorous stuff and selling stocks 

' at the bottom. 

■ I have always been a free lance, contributing to many 
publications, but the majority of my work has sold to 

' the Sun and the New York Herald. 

As a simon pure joke writer, however, Arthur Craw- 
ford takes the blue ribbon. How he got started writing 
jokes I have never dared to ask him, as he is a very 
tall, stern man, and any reference to his past is greeted 
with frowns. My impression, however, is that Mr. 
Crawford was born in an artists' studio, and suffered 
during his childhood in silence at the agony of the 
artists in trying to get ideas to go with their drawings. 
Like Hannibal, he probably resolved that, when he grew 
up, he would avenge himself on countless editors by 
supplying jokes to go with drawings. 

At any rate, there is now no question but what Mr. 
Crawford has the largest and most lucrative joke 
business in America. He is a whole joke syndicate. 
No real artist would dare to make a picture without 



448 OUR AMERICAN HUMORISTS 

consulting Crawford. If you will look through th 
back files of Life, or even the present numbers, m 
will frequently notice after the signature of the artis 
the sign "Plus A. C." That means Arthur Crawfoni 

Mr. Crawford has what is technically termed i: 
editorially comic circles "A pictorial mind." That is 
he is able to visualize a scene and write a joke to g: 
with it, so that the artist has but to draw the picturt 
and there you are. In a large nimiber of cases, s; 
completely does Crawford hypnotize the artist, that ths 
drawing when finished is exactly what he saw in hi: 
mind when he thought of the joke. 

But Mr. Crawford is a comparatively slow worker 
He tells me that he is able to write only about twcnn 
jokes in a week. He gets such fearful prices for them 
however, that this enables him literally to roll i: 
luxury. 



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